Stronger together. Women Self Help Group Kee.
© arche noVa/Axel Fassio

Kenya: Sand dams provide drinking water and food safety


one-time    regular
Kenya is known as a dream vacation destination. Yet beaches and safari adventures are only one aspect of the East African country. Many Kenyans live in areas of insecure living conditions, which are also severely affected by climate change.
Simple World Map - Author: Al MacDonald Editor: Fritz Lekschas License: CC BY-SA 3.0 ID: ISO 3166-1 or "_[a-zA-Z]" if an ISO code is not available

The District of Makueni in the province Eastern Kenya is one of the areas struggling with extreme weather conditions. The climate is hot and dry for most of the year. Only two short but intense rain periods provide water for the fields. However, it takes merely a few days for the water to seep into the ground and dry the riverbeds once more. Consequently, the farmers can only produce low crops on their sandy fields. They also have to walk a great deal to fetch drinking water. There are no hopes for improvement – on the contrary. Climate change makes the situation even worse because rain periods shorten and the total amount of rain decreases. More and more often, the farmers are not able to harvest enough for their own use. The District of Makueni is an official area of food deficit. Two thirds of the families are in poverty. Many of them depend on food distributions of international NGO’s.

Defying climate change

However, our project takes a different approach: we want to improve the precarious living conditions of small-scale farming families in the long term. We take diverse measures to achieve a major goal: enabling the local inhabitants to constructively deal with climate change and fend for themselves. The technical term for this is resilience. To accomplish this, the local beneficiaries take an important part in our project right from the start. Because we only provide help, where villagers already took action and founded a self-help group. Their first contact is our local partner organization Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) that pools further activities and implements them in cooperation with the self-help-groups.

Sand dams secure permanent water supply

The core in each of our project districts is the construction of water catchment basins or sand dams, which secure a permanent water supply. The sand dams arise shortly a few days after the rainy season in the dry river beds. The construction works according to a simple principle: the dam is going to hold the water back and the sand serves as a reservoir. This creates an artificial groundwater storage layer, which supplies people and their cattle herds with drinking and process water, which makes tree and shrub population grow stronger and leads to better yields on the fields.


The construction work is carried out by self-help groups of the participating municipalities. That is why ASDF only works with them and not for them. Therefore, the organization does not distribute aid supplies or cash, it only provides expertise, training, logistical support, tools and a part of the building materials such as cement and steel. Sand, gravel and rocks are contributed by self-help groups. They collect and procure the necessary quantities over months. After that the construction starts under the guidance of an ASDF engineer.

At first, the foundation stone is uncovered and a concrete wall is anchored. This wall is the actual dam and is created stepped to cope with various floods and lets sufficient water to flow downstream. In the course of three rainy seasons, a shallow sandy plain arises upstream of the dams, that is used as a storage medium. It prevents the water from evaporating. In addition, the sand improves the water quality by filtering the water.

Depending on geographic and geological conditions, sand dams aren’t eligible for every community. For those concerning villages, water collecting tanks where the precipitation is collected, are build. The following applies to all villages: During the project, water committees are established and trained, which are responsible for the maintenance and operation of the new systems.

Plant trees, improve crops, ensure income

Many years of experience of our local partner organization prove: As soon as there are sand dams or rainwater catchment basins, there is plenty of water, people save their time and money - especially pupils. These positive effects are intensified in our project by additional measures. For example, tree nurseries are set up and reforestation programs are implemented. These are important steps against the increasing desertification in the region. Further improvements apply to agriculture. During our project the small farmers learn how to build terraces on their fields and fight the erosion. They receive drought-resistant seeds and receive training on sustainable management methods. Thereby they are better equipped for the recurring and long-lasting drought periods. They are going to provide better care for their families and will also be able to tap into new income opportunities. For example, they learn how to obtain organic pesticides from neem trees or how to market the seeds of the Moringa trees as natural medicines.

Last but not least, we take care of the local climate protection as ASDF specifically promotes the use of energy-efficient furnaces. Thereby volunteers are trained, who are going to train the communities later Last but not least, we take care of the local climate protection as ASDF specifically promotes the use of energy-efficient furnaces. Thereby volunteers are trained, who are going to train the communities later on. They will explain how to build better ovens or seal existing ones. Thus each individual family saves wood charcoal and firewood and the carbon dioxide emissions decreases

Donate for this project

Tools (shovel, pick, wheelbarrow) for one family
30 kilograms of drought resistand seeds
Basic equipment for a tree nursery for one self help group

Project Overview


Securing drinking water supply and nutrition, as well as creation of income sources to fight the poverty

Target Group
22 Communities (25.900 people)
  • Construction of 22 sand dams and two water collecting basins
  • Establishment and training of water committees
  • Building terraces on farms
  • Establishment of collective vegetable gardens
  • Establishment of seed banks for field crops
  • Purchasing and distribution of drought-tolerant crops (seeds)
  • Reforestation and promotion of agroforestry approaches
  • Establishment of tree nurseries
  • Training of members of self-help groups
  • Training on sustainability in agriculture and housekeeping
  • Distribution of tools for construction work and agriculture
  • WaSH in schools - construction of 6 rainwater tanks, hand washing facilities, hygiene trainings

Co-operation partners
Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF)
  • Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
  • Aktion Deutschland Hilft
  • Knorr-Bremse Global Care e.V.
  • Spenderinnen und Spender