Friday, October 30, 2015

Sand dams quench the thirst of water-short Kenyans

By Sophie Mbugua, BRACED
LEMISHAMI, Kenya - On a busy market day in Lemishami village, Letilia Lekula herds his goats to a dry, sandy riverbed with a stonewall built across it. The animals wait patiently as he pulls a wooden trough from a nearby thicket and then starts digging in the sand.
After about five minutes, Lekula hears a splash. The sound is now so familiar to his goats that they circle around him as he scoops water from the hole in the sand into a trough for them to drink.
For the pastoralists of Lemishami in Ol Donyiro ward, which lies 115 kilometres (71 miles) from the town of Isiolo in Kenya's arid eastern region, the sand dam is a lifesaver.
Built across the Raap River, the simple wall catches water and silt that flows down from a nearby mountain range. As sand accumulates at the wall, it traps water and holds it through much of the dry season.
Months after natural ponds and rivers have dried up, the sand dam remains a reliable source of water.
Letilia Lekula waters his goats at the Lemeshami sand dam. TRF/Sophie Mbugua
Only a few years ago, villagers could rely on the year-round flow of the Ewaso Ng'iro River. Now, however, with upriver communities using more water for farming, the river has all but disappeared between March and August. The area's rainfall is too sporadic to keep the river topped up.
"It's been dry for the better part of the year," Lekula said. "The rain is unpredictable. Nowadays it's both very heavy and only lasts a few days."
Lekula's village got the sand dam as part of the Isiolo County Adaptation Fund (ICAF), a project funded by the U.K. Department for International Development through the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Set up in 2012, the fund worked with communities in Ol Donyiro, which is classified as a water-stressed region, to understand the challenges they face.
After Isiolo communities proposed sand dams as a solution to their water shortage problems, the fund constructed and rehabilitated a dozen sand dams across the parched county at a cost of 5.1 million Kenyan shillings ($50,000).
The sand dam in Lemishami is so effective that the pastoralists no longer feel the need to move their households, or manyattas, every year in search of water. Children can stay in school and women don't have to walk 30 kilometres to find water for their families, residents say.
While the sand dam doesn't provide enough water for all of the community's cows, which have been moved to more remote grazing fields, the villagers can keep a few goats at home for milk and meat.
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