Kenya: Water harvesting helps balance rainfall extremes (Trust)

| February 16, 2015

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Samuel Lontogunye has often experienced shortages of food and water in his 69 years. But a recent addition to his drought-prone village could change all that – a water harvesting system.

Mr. Lontogunye lives in Engilae, on the fringes of Kenya’s Rift Valley, about 250 kilometres north of Nairobi. His community recently built a weir across the nearby Ngeng’ River.

The weir is a concrete barrier that stretches across the river. It captures and stores water which would otherwise drain away during heavy rainfalls.

The land around Engilae is dotted with empty river courses during the dry season, when daytime temperatures can reach 35 degrees Celsius. The Ngeng’ River is one of the few that flow for most of the year. But it holds little water during prolonged droughts.

Village elders say that when the rains do fall – often in torrents that last for days – communities must flee to higher ground to avoid being washed away by floods. According to local administrators, the floods make it difficult to find clean water, and they interfere with food supplies and health care.

The new weir creates an artificial pool of water, while excess water spills over the top of the barrier and continues downstream. The water captured in the pool is diverted through underground pipes to a storage tank as required.

Mr. Lontogunye chairs the community’s water committee. He recalls, “Women used to spend most of the day searching for water from faraway sources. Even the little they found was not clean because of sharing with wild animals.”

Now his family fetches water for cooking and washing from a tank in the village. Herders no longer have to drive their livestock to the river for a drink. The village’s dispensary and school also benefit from having clean water.

Onyango Okoth is the assistant commissioner for Samburu County. He says the weir deals with the region’s central problem: erratic rainfall.

Mr. Okoth explains, “There is a lot of rainfall during the rainy season but all the water goes to waste. … Two to three weeks after the rains, the place is dry and people will be crying for water.”

Seth Kwatemba is an official with the International Medical Corps, or IMC, an NGO which is working with the Engilae community on the weir-building project. Mr. Kwatemba says the new weir aims to address all the community’s water problems.

He explains, “The idea is to tap the little water that flows through the river course but also … harvest bigger volumes from the seasonal floods.” He says the system can collect more than 20,000 litres of water per day, and uses solar energy to pump water to the storage tank.

Mr. Lontogunye is certain that the weir will be a success because the community helped develop and build it. He says, “IMC has helped us with this project, but we feel we own it because we are involved in most of the activities.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Inventive water harvesting helps Kenya balance rain extremes, go to: