According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 3.4 million people die from water-related diseases every year. The biggest killers among children under 5-years-old are malaria and diarrhoea – the latter one rarely prompting a hospital visit here in the UK, however, globally it kills around 525,000 children under 5-years-old each year. The problems are unprotected stagnant water sources that attract mosquitoes and other parasites such as bilharzia.

Water quality

The unique thing about a sand dam is that the water is filtered clean through the sand and stored below the surface, protecting it from contamination. When the water is then abstracted through a pipe, it comes out clean and protects those who drink it from disease.


A secure water supply enables a greater range of foods to be grown. Diverse and nutritious diets are vital for improved health. More animal fodder can be grown too, and fatter livestock means more meat and more milk, which is especially valuable for children’s health. A good diet is key to giving children a better start in life.


Women and children shoulder the greatest burden of collecting water in rural Africa. They often walk between 6 and 12 hours a day, carrying up to 20Kg of water on their heads or backs. For women, this responsibility persists even during pregnancy. The health risks are not hard to imagine. Women sometimes give birth or miscarry when they are far away from home or help. All in the daily course of collecting water.

“Some of (the women) went to fetch water when they were pregnant and maybe due to that problem of carrying water on their backs some of them miscarried or gave birth on their way back from the water points. Through the sand dam we have solved that problem and we are aware that the health of the women has improved."

Charles Mutua Kyeviti of the Ithime self-help group. southeast Kenya.

In Kenya, where 362 women per 100,000 die in childbirth (compared to 8 in the UK), having a source of water closer to home can minimise the risk that pregnant women are exposed to every day.

More water facts from the World Health Organisation

  •  844 million people lack even a basic drinking-water service, including 159 million people who are dependent on surface water.
  • Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces.
  • By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

Watch this film about how sand dams are improving health