Tanzania: Managing water with micro-dams (UNDP)

| March 28, 2011

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Mr. Rabiet Mkumbwa smiles as he feeds his cow a large ration of grain. He used to struggle to feed his family and his livestock because the rains were poor. But a new rainwater micro-dam has improved his family’s livelihood. He says, “We have cultivated maize and beans and we are using the water in the house. We don’t have a problem with food right now.”

Mr. Mkumbwa lives in Mwembe village in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region. This dry area receives less than 400 millimetres of rain each year. Climate change is affecting the rain patterns. The traditionally rainy months of October and November have not brought steady rains for the last two years.

Standing in front of his house, Mr. Mkumbwa explains: “If there’s a bad year, we can stay up to 20 days without rain. The young crops die; that’s the problem over here.”

The Same Agricultural Improvement Project (SAIPRO), a local NGO, approached the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, for support. Together, they constructed a large pool to collect the water that streams down the hills during rainy weather. Micro-dams like this are based on traditional local water reservoirs known as ndiva.

The dam is owned and maintained by a group of community members, 20 women and 30 men.  They clean out the mud from the pool and manage the distribution and channeling of water.

The micro-dam can store up to 220,000 litres of the rainwater that flows down the surrounding hills. The dam’s valve is opened once a week to distribute water to the community members’ farm plots. Once released, the water is manually channeled to plots that cover 200 acres of farmland and serve up to 150 households.

To improve the flow and maximize the reach of the water, villagers are encouraged to build canals from the dam to their plots. Stella Zaarh works with UNDP Tanzania’s Small Grants Programme. She says, “By collecting small contributions, you can buy cement and do the construction in phases.”

There are now five micro-dams in the area. With improved water supply to their plots, small-scale farmers are now feeding their families. They can earn extra income by selling their produce at local markets. Their children can attend school, and they can afford to keep poultry and cows. Many farmers have improved their houses by replacing thatch roofs with metal sheets.

Mr. Mkumbwa’s family now has ample supplies of fresh fruit with maize and beans in storage. His animals get fresh hay and water and look healthy and happy. Mr. Mkumbwa is also happy with the good life they now enjoy at home, thanks to the micro-dam.