Kenya: Water storage helps farmers thrive during drought (Trust)

| July 18, 2016

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Though heavy rains drenched parts of East Africa in April, Makueni County in eastern Kenya remains dry―and no one is sure when the rains will come. But the women in Kikumbulyu village are not concerned about the lack of rain because they have built a system to store water.

Kikumbulyu is in Kibwezi sub-county, a hilly area with huge rocks. This environment doesn’t support traditional methods of water conservation such as water pans or “sand dams,” which use wet sand to hold water. Instead, local villagers have built rock catchment systems, taking advantage of the local geography.

Mary Mwikali Kiminza has five children, and is a member of the Ithine Self Help Group. She is grateful for the difference the rock catchment system has made. She says, “Apart from the gift of life from God, this is the other biggest blessing that has come to us.”

Rock catchment systems use naturally-occurring rock outcrops to capture and divert rainwater to a central collection area. Villagers built a concrete wall to direct the water into a sand and gravel filter, then down pipes into covered storage tanks.

Each concrete tank holds up to 190,000 litres of water. While the catchment system cost 2.5 million Kenyan shillings ($25,000 US) to build, the community group in Kikumbulyu village is earning money by selling water at 10 Kenyan shillings ($0.10 US) for 20 litres.

During a period of heavy rainfall in 2014, the group earned 16,000 shillings ($160 US) from selling harvested water. They used some of that money this year to buy 10 goats for breeding.

The catchment system provides an extra source of income, and the easy access to water saves women and children the frequent long walks to the river. Mrs. Kiminza says, “My feet are now rested without endless trips to [fetch water], and my children can now concentrate in school because I no longer ask them to follow me to the river.”

Matheka Cornelius Kyalo is the executive director of Africa Sand Dam Foundation, a Kenyan non-governmental organization that is helping villagers construct rock catchment systems. He says storing water is important to help villagers adapt to climate change. He adds, “The main idea is to build resilience to climate extremes among the worst-hit areas, using locally acceptable techniques, and making them as sustainable as possible.”

Villagers in other areas are using different methods to store water. For example, in nearby Sogeni village, residents built sand dams to store water, which allows them to grow green beans for export.

The dams use sand barriers at different points along a river to hold the water that rushes downstream during seasonal flooding. The sand dams can hold millions of litres of water.

Harison Kitaa is the chairman of Sogeni’s Mulaso Self Help Group. He says, “This is a lasting solution to a problem that has rocked us for several years. Even without the export market, we [will] not go hungry as has been the case in the past.”

Villagers in Isiolo County, 600 kilometres north of Makeuni, are using a different method: home dams that can store rainwater runoff. The dams are simple reservoirs dug into the ground. They are easy to build, and use a polythene lining to stop water from percolating into the ground.

Like the villagers in Mukeuni, the local Bidii Women Group is using the stored water to grow green beans for export, earning 50,000 shillings ($500 US) every two weeks.

To read the full story on which this article is based, Innovative water storage helps Kenyans thrive in drought, go to:

Photo credit: TRF/Isaiah Esipisu