Published in May 2023

The issue of water scarcity affects nearly all facets of life for people living in drylands, such as those in southeast Kenya. Looking at the case of the Kwainyoe self-help group, we see how a sand dam helps to remove so many burdens that can weigh heavily on dryland communities.

Harrison Mulu, a 50-year-old father of five, is the chairman of the Kwainyoe self-help group (SHG), located in the Kitile-Ngangani village of Machakos county, southeast Kenya. Not long ago, Mulu helped to organise community members into the Kwainyoe SHG, so that they may together seek solutions to the issue of water scarcity in their local area.

Local people had been struggling with this issue for some time, with the nearest reliable water source being the Athi River, which is located roughly 8km from the village. On a typical day, a local person would often wake up at 4:00am to prepare for the journey before leaving their home at around 5:30am. The journey to collect water could take an average of four hours to complete while the route itself was full of perils, due to the difficult terrain and risk of attack from animals such as snakes or crocodiles. During dry seasons, people may be faced with walking yet further to find water as local sources would dry up. Mulu shares how these issues affected children in particular.

Harrison Mulu - Chairman of Kwainyoe SHG"Children here often missed school, especially during dry seasons, as they had to play a big role in helping their parents to fetch water."

Harrison Mulu, Chairman of the Kwainyoe self-help group, southeast Kenya.

Even after people had returned home from this journey, the amount of water they could carry was often not enough for all of their needs, such as farming and sanitation. The exhausting nature of water collection could leave people too tired to complete other daily tasks, such as livestock care and general household chores. To further compound these issues still, the water collected from Athi River was often contaminated to the point of causing many health issues in the community. Mulu recounts a particularly difficult year for the community in 2009, during which the village experienced a significant Cholera outbreak causing around 10 people to become sick as a result of drinking dirty water from the river.

After founding Kwainyoe SHG, Mulu told us that the hardest challenge they faced was knowing who to approach to help the community. "We overcame this by getting in touch with a field officer from the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), who never relented in their support for us." After meeting with ASDF (our partners in the region), Mulu and his community began working on their own sand dam project, with support from Sand Dams Worldwide and our generous funders. Now, the Kwainyoe community have completed their very first sand dam and are beginning to see the benefits of the project.

Harrison Mulu - Chairman of Kwainyoe SHG"Since we met with Africa Sand Dam Foundation (partners with Sand Dams Worldwide) our dream has come true. We have a sand dam in place and a working shallow well, fitted with a hand pump that provides very clean water. To us, this is magical."

Harrison Mulu, Chairman of the Kwainyoe self-help group, southeast Kenya.

Mulu says that he now plans to grow numerous crops and trees on his farm using the community’s newly acquired water source. He tells us that he looks forward to having food security and being able to sell his surplus produce in order to improve his income. He finishes talking with us by expressing how the general mood of the community has improved as a result of completing their project, how they are already seeing their hard work pay off with great results, and look forward to the completion and benefits of their second sand dam this summer.

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