Excellent Development supports people living in drylands where water scarcity and food insecurity can be an everyday issue.

What are drylands?

Drylands are defined as regions with arid, semi-arid or dry sub-humid climates. They cover 40% of the world’s land surface, support 50% of the world’s livestock, account for over half of all farmland, and are major wildlife habitats. There are significant dryland regions in 110 countries across six continents.

Caught in a dryland trap

Whilst important and vast, dryland regions are also very tough places to live. Rainfall is erratic and water from heavy downpours runs off the bone-dry land and disappears to the oceans, taking valuable fertile soil with it. To make things worse, climate change is causing dryland areas to turn into desert.

Drylands support 74% of the world's poor. Most of these live in rural areas. Here, the constant search for water traps millions of people in a vicious cycle of subsistence. Women and children often spend 6 to 12 hours a day trailing across parched scrubland to collect water, often from unclean rivers and unsafe sources. In times of drought, it can take even longer.

More about drylands and the people that live in them:

What does the future of drylands looks like?

The UN predicts that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions. Because they typically carry the prime responsibility for water collection, it is women and children who suffer the most.

As the world’s population swells over 7 billion, so does the pressure on dryland resources. It is thought that land degradation and desertification over the next 25 years could reduce global food production by up to 12%, resulting in a 30% increase in world food prices. We are already experiencing political tensions, migrations and conflicts over limited natural resources, such as water and land, and this will only intensify as our natural capital diminishes.

Change starts with water and water starts with a sand dam

This constant search for water in drylands means that people have no time to invest in things like agriculture and education. So they are trapped in a situation they have no power to improve. Desertification, climate change and biodiversity loss are very closely linked, but with the right interventions, all can be addressed simultaneously. Our work with rural dryland communities does just that. With cheap, sustainable rainwater harvesting initiatives, like sand dams, we are improving access to water.

Sand dams can make such a difference. They are the world’s cheapest method of capturing rainwater and this ancient, but quite brilliant, technology can help provide a year-round supply of water that gives hope for generations to come.

With the opportunity this creates, people are investing in sustainable land management and are building their resilience to climate change – addressing local biodiversity loss, desertification, and climate change all at the same time – as well as creating food security and economic growth.

If managed well, drylands can be fertile lands - capable of supporting habitats, crops, livestock and sustaining lives. Investment in drylands agriculture must be a global priority if we are to protect the natural capital upon which sustainable livelihoods will be built for the world’s growing population.  

At Excellent we believe the widespread application of sand dam technology in drylands, together with other sustainable land management initiatives, will make a significant contribution to the alleviation of global poverty.

We’d have achieved nothing without local people

Since 2002, we have supported the construction of more than 1,000 sand dams. But not one of them would have been possible without the wholehearted commitment of local people. They build their sand dams. They dig their terraces. They plant their trees.

We work with local partners to play the small, but crucial role, of providing vital materials, training, guidance and support. We are there when needed; providing examples of sustainable farming practice, sharing proven knowledge and suggesting techniques to maximise food production.

It is the communities we work with that make sand dams succeed.

More about sand dams