It doesn’t rain much in Kenya. In fact, rainfall often comes just twice a year in a few weeks of extremely heavy downpour. To prevent drought and food scarcity, it is essential to make the best use of that water.
Of all the countries in East Africa, Kenya has been at the forefront of many innovative technologies to capture the scarce rainwater that large parts of the country receive. For domestic needs, for instance, roof water tanks provide a quality source of water during the dry seasons when water resources are scarce. For agricultural communities, the country knows many success stories on the large-scale uptake of terracing and other water buffering measures.
In other words: Kenyans are quite experienced in harnessing the benefits of the rains, be it for personal use or in order to increase crop production when water is a limiting factor to crop growth. Most of all, though, Kenyan organisations have been key in the development of innovative technologies like sand dams, subsurface dams and rock catchments. Local media and the public acknowledge the important role of certain features of the natural environment (like big forest complexes) in water buffering.
From the 1950s onward NGOs and governmental organisations recognised how Kenya’s Arid and Semi Arid Lands (together comprising almost 80% of the country) required an approach that made the most of the scarce rainfall the country receives. Projects on rainwater harvesting have produced and innovated technologies that make smart use of the landscape’s natural features.
For instance, sand dams were developed to buffer water in the seasonal sandy rivers. A dam partially blocks the flow of water and sand, and creates a large body of sand piling up behind it. When it rains, this body of sand is saturated with water that is free of waterborne diseases and is often ready to drink. The natural runoff from roads and hills has also been harnessed by directing the runoff flow into ponds or tanks.
These technologies make sense under conditions of drought. It is more than wise to capture the water when it is flowing, storing it for future use. The success of these projects can perhaps best be measured by the way the sand dams are now being propagated outside Kenya by Kenyan organisations.
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