Sand Dams Worldwide's former Programmes Officer, Emma Seal, finds out what income opportunities have been generated as a result of safe water from a sand dam for a community and their livestock...

Kwa Munyaka self-help group is a small but pro-active set of 11 community members who came together in 2013 to work to mitigate the effects of climate change in their valley. Since then they have constructed a water tank for a local secondary school, and three sand dams, as well as developed a goat project, all supported by the Paul Foundation, UKAID, and Medicor Foundation. I met five members in September this year (2016) to learn about their work and the impact it has had on them. We sat on small, plastic chairs in the shade of a broad-leafed fruit tree looking out over a steep hill of terraced land with lithe, green mango trees springing up from the red earth.

Impact from sand dams

Victor Matuku, the group’s secretary, explained about some of the benefits they have experienced since building their first sand dam. “We are getting sand. Buildings like this,” he gestured at the stocky, mud-built huts set in a semi-circle behind us. “Initially we’d go very far to get sand, but now we are getting sand closer to our homes.” He added that “livestock now will be taking water just near here, before the projects we’d go further.” The group quickly took on learning about improved agriculture techniques, using manure for their crops and other methods. “You can’t compare the yield from the first demo farm with those farms that don’t have terraces and don’t have manure.”

Kwa Munyaka livestock

Photo: Access to safe water is vital to sustaining healthy livestock; a widespread form of income in the region of southeast Kenya.

Transforming young lives with a school water tank

When I asked about the school water tank they constructed, Ruth Ngila, member and patron of the group, emphasised that “the reports we are getting are positive from the school. Their school feeding programme is not bothered by water problems as was before.” The availability of water at schools transforms education for youngsters, including decreasing waterborne diseases when children no longer have to share water, and improving grades when concentration levels increase.

"This area, compared to others where such projects have not been started, will be more empowered. Our children... they’ll have all these income generating activities in place as they grow up."

Josephine Kanini, Kwa Munyaka self-help group’s vice-chair.

Improving livestock

Rose Mwende, a group member, brought up the topic of livestock, a widespread form of income in the region. “If you go to our homesteads you’ll see chicken, we are now getting meat, we are now getting eggs. They are healthy.” The group has seen success in this project and are keen to expand their goat project and add a bull project to their activities. We walked up the hill to a pen constructed from tree branches which hems in a group of white, bleating goats nuzzling at us as they were let out. Victor’s two-year-old son leaned against a stationary one whilst rubbing his eyes.

Photo: Kwa Munyaka self-help group's completed sand dam. Sand dams are the most cost-effective method of rainwater harvesting in drylands. They store up to 40 million litres of water.

Hopes for the future

“We are investing for our children, and it is them whose lives will be better than ours,” Josephine Kanini, the group’s vice-chair, responds when I ask about future hopes. “This area, compared to others where such projects have not been started, will be more empowered. Our children, they’ll have all these income generating activities in place as they grow up. So, we hope that the future looks bright for them.”

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