In 2010 the United Nations declared access to clean water a human right. In doing so, it entitles each and every one of us to have access to sufficient amounts of safe water which is accessible and affordable, for personal and domestic use.

Yet over a decade on, there are still an estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide without access to clean water.

Clean water is fundamental to our survival and ability to thrive. Without it, there can be devastating consequences to people’s health.

Dirty and unsafe water can transmit diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid. Each year, contaminated drinking water causes 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths – according to a 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

Over the last 18 months we have been reminded of how important it is to regularly wash our hands to prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19, yet this is not an option for many people living in drylands who do not have access to a reliable source of water.

Water insecurity is also one of the root causes of poverty. Each day women and children are spending countless hours searching for water, depriving them of the opportunity to earn a living or to go to school, and instead trapping them in a cycle of poverty and drudgery.

What’s more, inadequate water supplies are contributing to widespread food insecurity, particularly amongst rural farming communities in developing countries who rely on agriculture to feed their families.

This cannot go on. Communities around the world must be supported to gain access to clean water, and for those living in dryland regions, sand dams can offer a solution.

"I have remained healthy alongside my children and husband ever since we started drinking water from the sand dam – it is clean and everyone in the community enjoys it!”

Josephine Mwendwa, Tyaa Tito self-help group member, southeast Kenya.

A sand dam is a concrete wall built across a sandy riverbed. During the short but intense rains common to dryland regions, water flows over a sand dam and deposits sand behind the wall where water is stored, safe from contamination and disease, providing communities with clean, safe water (which meets WHO standards for drinking).

Each sand dam can hold up to 40 million litres of water, replenishing every rainy season to provide communities with year-round access to water for life. Watch how sand dams work here:


With a dependable supply of water, the health of communities is improved, as they can use the water to implement safe hygiene measures such as regular hand washing. What’s more, cases of waterborne diseases are reduced as they no longer have to drink contaminated water.

Sand dams are constructed close to people’s homes to provide communities with an accessible supply of water, thereby reducing the daily burden of water collection duties. Data from some of the communities we have worked with in southeast Kenya demonstrated that there was a 73% reduction in the total amount of time to collect water, from 4 hours to 1 hour 20 minutes. The impact of this is significant, saving women and children precious hours each day; time which they can invest in education and employment opportunities, and in fulfilling their potential.

“My life has received a major transformation from these sand dam projects. The water struggle has been settled once and for all. I am no longer travelling the long distances which is saving me a lot of time to engage in other personal development activities.”

Phylis Kithome, Tyaa Tito self-help group secretary, southeast Kenya.

With more time for farming, and no longer dependent on unreliable and unpredictable rainfall, farmers (like Josephine and Phylis) are able to produce more crops year-round, providing a reliable source of food for their families. Our evaluations have shown that sand dam projects in southeast Kenya led to an 89% reduction in households experiencing food shortages.

According to recent reports in the press, the Government plans to cut UK aid to overseas Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programmes by a staggering 80%. As the fight against COVID-19 remains ongoing, and hand washing continues to be one of the first lines of defence against the virus, we urgently need your support to raise vital funds to support more vulnerable dryland communities to gain access to clean water. Here is just an example of how your support could help:

£20 could provide a community with 4 bags of cement for their sand dam

£60 could provide a community with a roll of barbed wire, to reinforce their sand dam and keep it anchored to the bedrock

£120 could provide a community with a wheelbarrow and 10 bags of cement, to help them construct their sand dam

We continue to be humbled by the incredible generosity of our supporters like you, particularly during these challenging times. It is thanks to your continued support that we are able to continue to work with our partners to deliver sand dam projects. But there is still a long way to go to ensure that all vulnerable dryland communities have access to what is their basic human right.

Any support you are able to provide today will truly make a lasting difference to people’s lives for generations to come. 

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