In January 2015, Excellent Development built the first sand dam in Lekurruki Conservancy. This was the start of a 4-year programme piloting sand dams in a new area and context. Our Head of Programmes, Christine Whinney, reflects on the achievements and lessons learned during this four-year period.

Before this programme we had always worked with settled farming communities, and through a community self help group model. Communities requested support and the water was for drinking and other household uses, as well as to support agriculture. Lekurruki, in the northern rangelands of Kenya, was very different. This was the first time we had worked with pastoralist communities, where the beneficiaries were not only humans and their livestock, but also wildlife that was in the region.

When we first started working here, there were examples of sand dams in the region, but they were not well known and there was some scepticism around their effectiveness. This programme has been challenging at times and we have learnt a lot, especially in terms of working with pastoralist and more transient communities, as opposed to settled farmers, and in a different environmental context. However, it has also been a very successful programme where we have demonstrated the very positive impact of sand dams and the role they can play in wider water and conservation strategies.

New Picnic Sand Dam - Northern Kenya

Since 2015, we have completed 14 sand dams; 12 in Lekurruki Conservancy, and two in neighbouring Oldonyiro Conservancy, where our partners in the region, the Lekurruki Conservancy Trust (LCT) team, passed on their knowledge and supported the construction of these sand dams.

The sand dams in Lekurruki, which include a series of five along the Tassia River, continue to have a very positive impact on the whole conservancy. The water from the Tassia dams is now supplying the community-owned tourist lodge with water and meeting all of its water needs. Combined with increased wildlife numbers, and wildlife remaining in the area for longer resulting from increased water, numbers of tourists to the lodge have increased, which has increased the amount of money going to the community.

Tassia B sand dam - Northern Kenya

This year over 1 million KES (Kenyan Shillings) have gone to the community and investments have included bursaries for 22 students; including university and teacher training students. Last year it was not possible to provide bursaries for any students due to the majority of the money being used to supply water to the lodge.

The network of sand dams on other rivers throughout the conservancy are holding water and providing significant benefits to people, livestock, and wildlife. Data shows that the distance people have to walk for water has halved from 6km to 3km, and more significantly for these communities the amount of water they are able to collect has increased by 370%, from 1.7 litres per person in 2015 to 8 litres per person in 2018.

The programme with LCT ended in June 2019. However, since we began this programme the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a major player in the region and the umbrella organisation for all of the conservancies, has recognised the impact of sand dams and the role they can play in their own water resource management strategies throughout the northern rangelands. They have asked us to work with them and support them to build their capacity in delivering sand dams across the region. As part of our long term plans to scale up into other conservancies, over the next year we plan to work closely with NRT to build their local capacity and transition the expertise of sand dams in the region to them, ensuring local ownership and sustainability of our programmes and work.

Sand dams enable rural dryland farmers to transform their own lives, reducing the time and effort spent on collecting water so that communities can focus on developing sustainable futures. Please donate to help more rural people invest in their own livelihoods, and become self-sustaining for generations to come.

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