Titelbild Kenia - Gemeinsam stärker. Selbsthilfegruppe Kee
© arche noVa/Axel Fassio

Kenya: Sand dams provide drinking water and food safety

Kenya is considered a dream vacation destination in this country. But beaches and safari adventures for tourists are only one side of the East African country. Many Kenyans live in regions where livelihoods are anything but secure and climate change is leaving clear traces.
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

Among the areas that have to deal with extreme weather conditions is Makueni District in Eastern Kenya Province. Here it is hot and dry most of the year. Only two short but heavy rainy seasons provide rainfall and thus irrigation for the fields. But within a few days, the water has seeped away and the rivers have dried up. The result: on the sandy soils, the farmers can draw only little yield from their fields. And they have to walk long distances to get their drinking water. There is no hope for improvement - on the contrary. Climate change is making the situation even worse, because the rainy seasons are getting shorter and shorter and the total amount of precipitation is falling. More and more often, farmers are therefore no longer even able to secure their own needs. Officially, the Makueni district is considered a food deficit region. Two thirds of the families live in poverty. Many of them are dependent on food distributions from international aid organizations.

The second project area of arche noVa is located in Laikipia County, which is particularly sparsely populated and little developed. Here, too, people have to overcome long distances in order to supply themselves with drinking water. In acute drought phases, the situation worsens, as recently in spring 2022. In view of the enormous need for help, our local partner organization supplies the people with water by tanker truck.

Defying climate change

Our project aims to permanently improve the precarious living conditions of the small farming families living here. To achieve this, we are taking a whole package of measures with one major goal in mind: Enabling local people to respond constructively to climate change, to provide for themselves and to develop income opportunities. In technical jargon, this is called resilience. For this to succeed, the local people themselves play the decisive role in our project from the very beginning. This is because construction and support is only provided where the villagers have already taken the initiative and formed a self-help group. Your contact persons are our local partner organizations Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) and Laikipia Permaculture Trust (LPCT), who bundle the project measures and implement them together with the self-help groups.

Sand dams secure permanent water supply

The linchpin in each of our project villages is the construction of rock catchment basins or sand dams that permanently secure the water supply. The sand dams are built where no more water can be seen even a few days after the rainy season: in the dry riverbeds. The construction works on a simple principle: The dam holds back the sand and becomes a water reservoir. The people and their livestock benefit from this. At the same time, the groundwater storage layer stabilizes, allowing trees and shrubs to grow more vigorously and leading to better yields in the fields.

The self-help groups in the participating communities carry out the construction work themselves. They are closely supported by our partner organizations. Cooperation begins at the planning stage. The self-help groups receive construction plans, training, logistical support, tools and some of the building materials such as cement, steel and wood. Sand, gravel and stone, on the other hand, are contributed by the self-help groups. For months, they collect and procure the necessary quantities. Then construction begins under the guidance of experts from the partner organizations. 

First, the bedrock is exposed and a concrete wall is anchored. This wall is the actual dam and is designed in stages so that it can cope with floods of varying intensity while still allowing sufficient water to pass through for the communities downstream. Over the course of three rainy seasons, a shallow sand plain forms in front of the dams, upstream, which serves as a storage medium and prevents the water from evaporating as it would in an open reservoir. Water is conveniently drawn off directly next to the dams by hand pump.

Even more water thanks to solar pumps

At individual sites with sand dams, solar pumps are also installed to pump water from the sand reservoir into a water system. This expansion happens in localities so far upstream that it is too far or arduous to walk to a hand pump. The Green Energy solution further rounds out the climate-adapted measures.
For all villages, water committees will be established and trained during the project to maintain and operate the new systems.


Donate for this project

15 kilograms of drought-resistant plant seeds
year-round drinking water for a family at a sand dam
installation of a hand pump at a sand dam

Boosting positive effects even further through cooperation

The many years of experience of our local partner organization ASDF prove this: Where sand dams are built, there is sufficient water, people save time fetching water, new arable land is created, crops thrive better, new trees can be planted and: the microclimate improves. In our project, we specifically reinforce these positive effects by combining the know-how of two local partner organizations: ASDF contributes expertise in water supply and mobilization of self-help groups, and LPCT expertise in sustainable agriculture.

Plant trees, improve crops, ensure income

Tree nurseries are being established at quite a few project sites and reforestation programs are being carried out. These are important steps against increasing desertification and widespread erosion in the region. Planting is thus part of disaster prevention.

Further improvements are being made in agriculture. During our project, farmers learn how to build terraces in their fields and combat erosion. They receive drought-resistant seeds and training in sustainable farming methods and permaculture. In addition, they receive support in raising chickens and goats. Equipped in this way, people can provide for themselves better and also develop new income opportunities. So far, this has been extremely difficult, especially for young people in the region. Many young people see their future in migration to cities. Our project therefore explicitly involves this target group. Young people receive training in poultry farming, pottery and growing vegetables, as well as in business management.

The future opportunities promoted by the project also include the production of cosmetic products such as soaps or shampoo, which are marketed directly on site. To this end, the cultivation of aloe vera is being promoted. The plants grow quickly and require little water. Soap is also produced from goat's milk in the project and marketed. The first bars of soap can already be found in hotel rooms in the region, an important step for the development of further marketing opportunities.

Last but not least, we take care of local climate protection on site by specifically promoting the use of energy-efficient stoves. To this end, volunteers are trained, who in turn conduct training sessions in the communities. They will explain how to build better stoves or seal existing ones. In this way, each individual family saves charcoal and firewood, and carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.

Strengthening resilience and reducing risks

Our project focuses on sustainability and resilience. What has proven successful at individual locations is communicated further in the network as best practice. arche noVa specifically promotes the networking of civil society actors among each other and the communication of our partner organizations to the official structures on site.

The most important actors to reduce the risks of disasters are the local communities. Among other hazards, they must face up to the effects of climate change in particular. The better their information base, the better they can do so. In the course of our project, therefore, cartographic surveys are carried out with the communities to map the natural risks on a site-specific basis.

Many communities are not yet fully aware of where exactly and how much flooding, erosion, loss of livestock, prolonged drought and crop failure threaten individual villages. In addition, there is overuse of natural resources and unsustainable management of agricultural land. All of this is addressed in training sessions with the communities and adaptation measures are derived from this. Finally, each community will have disaster preparedness strategies, early warning systems and contingency plans in place.

Previous projects have already made a big difference

arche noVa is active in Kenya since 2012. Quite a few self-help groups have already been supported. Thereby, more than 50 sand dams were built. Rock catchment basins were built at four sites to collect and store rainwater runoff from rock formations. Pipeline systems, water tanks and dispensing points have been built at many of the sites.

Sites of operation also included schools, where we worked with ASDF to build rainwater storage tanks for water supply. Last but not least, hygiene education has played an important role in our country program from the very beginning. In 2020, these activities were further intensified in the course of Covid 19 prevention.

Project Overview


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

Target Group

4.160 persons in 10 villages



  • Construction of sand dams as well as solar pumps at existing sand dams
  • Establishment and training of water committees
  • Terrace construction on farms
  • Establishment of collective vegetable gardens as demonstration plots
  • Establishment of seed banks for crops
  • Distribution of drought-tolerant crop varieties (seeds) and tools
  • Reforestation and establishment of tree nurseries
  • Training on climate-adapted agriculture, agroforestry, marketing of products
  • Establishment of disaster preparedness structures


Since December 2020
Co-operation partners
Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), Laikipia Permaculture Centre Trust (LPCT)
  • Aktion Deutschland Hilft
  • Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
  • Donors