Kenya: Water harvesting helps women cope with failing rains (Trust)

| September 30, 2013

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It is estimated that nearly one in every two Kenyans lacks access to safe water. But Rose Wanjiku has found a solution – and it’s falling from the sky. She harvests the rain, and uses rainwater rather than river water when cooking food or washing clothes for her family.

Mrs. Wanjiku is a 45-year-old farmer who moved to the Ngurubani area of central Kenya 14 years ago. At that time, rains began in April and again in October, giving four months of rain a year. There was enough rain to grow staples like maize and beans, which fed her family and gave her some surplus to sell at local markets.

Now there are only two months of rain. Mrs. Wanjiku has to pump water from nearby Thiba River to irrigate her crops. The river is close to her house and fields, but the water pump is an extra expense. And the water is too dirty for drinking or washing.

To counter her water shortage, Mrs. Wanjiku harvests rainwater from gutters on her roof. She received a loan from a nationwide Kenyan microfinance program called SMEP. The loan enabled her to buy a 2,300-litre water tank to store the harvested water.

So far, rainwater gathered during the April rains has sustained the household. And the rains are due to begin again in October.

Mrs. Wanjiku has been paying back her loan at 1,000 Kenyan shillings a month ($11.50 US) since February, and aims to clear the loan by November.

Poor rainfall has also taken a toll on 38-year-old Margaret Njeri Muthee. Mrs. Njeri moved to the area 15 years ago. She recalls that rains were regular at that time. She used to harvest four and a half 90-kilogram bags of beans per hectare. Today, she struggles to get more than one bag.

Mrs. Njeri says, “The weather has really changed here … there is a chill I never saw before destroying our staples.” Because of the unpredictable weather and poor yields, Mrs. Njeri has diversified into animal production.

She had been spending 400 shillings ($4.50 US) every week to have water brought one kilometre from the river to her home. So she followed Mrs. Wanjiku’s lead and took a loan from SMEP to buy a water tank.

The two women are among the more than 7,000 Kenyan beneficiaries of a water credit scheme backed by an international NGO, The scheme enables households to buy water tanks to capture the clean rainwater that falls on their roofs, and to store it for later use. encourages microfinance institutions like SMEP to offer credit for income-enhancing projects. Ninety-two per cent of the recipients of these loans are women. With their time and money freed up by harvesting rainwater, the beneficiaries can concentrate on their income-generating efforts.

Patrick Alubbe is the regional director of for East Africa. He says women spend hours every day searching for water, and so they understand the benefits of the scheme.

For Mrs. Wanjiku, farming is still far from trouble-free. But, with her tank storing rainwater, life is easier in her home. She no longer needs to wait for the mud to settle in collected river water before she can use it.