Makueni County is in the former Eastern Province of Kenya. It has a population of 884,527: 95% are rural subsistence farmers and two thirds live below the national poverty line. The area experiences two rainy seasons, namely the long rains (March to May) and the short rains (October to December). According to residents, up until the 1970s both the long and short rain seasons were reliable, and the community used to plant and harvest twice a year. However, from the 1980s onwards, the long rains have been unreliable and inconsistent, leaving the community with only one dependable annual harvest. The area’s vulnerability to climate variations is exacerbated by the community’s heavy reliance on crops such as maize and beans, that are very sensitive to drought. In addition, natural resource degradation, inadequate provision of social services and under investment are key challenges facing the area. The issues in climate variability in the area lead to frequent and prolonged droughts, severe water shortages and famine.
Less than 10% of the population in Makueni have access to a safe and adequate water supply within 30 minutes. The lack of food and water creates many negative effects for communities. During the dry season women and children, who have the responsibility of collecting water can walk between six and 12 hours per day. The women therefore spend less time spent on farming and their children miss school. The cost of getting clean drinking water is impossible for most households – currently a 20 litre jerry can is sold at Ksh 20 and meeting the demands of water for the various household needs is an expensive venture.
The main sources of water before this project were two pipelines and a borehole at Syumile. The water pipelines aren’t a reliable water source for the community as they do break down at times resulting to a serious water scarcity in the driest months. The water from Syumile borehole is salty and therefore the community avoids collecting water from it unless the other sources have failed. The quantity of water from these sources does not meet the demaind, especially in the driest months. In the event of a drought, the community has to trek for 20 kilometres to collect contaminated water from River Athi.
In January 2014, work began in Mukononi Village on a project to construct a guttering system, two 190m3 water storage tanks, a water kiosk and a sanitation unit. The project was implemented by Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) and the Ithime Self Help Group in partnership with Just a Drop, and it was generously sponsored by TUI Travel Plc.
The project’s main goal was to increase availability of potable water for the 6,059 inhabitants of Syumile Sub location, with 810 beneficiaries living in the three closest villages of Mukononi, Muundani and Kanyama.
Ithime Self Help Group
Ithime Self Help Group comprises 24 members (one male and 23 females) from Mukononi, Muundani and Kanyama villages. The 24 members represent 24 households. This Self Help Group has been at the centre of the project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The project design is based on the need and solution that the Self Help Group identified themselves. Rainfall variability in the county is extreme and averages between 500mm to 1,200mm. Most of this rain falls within two-three weeks. Rivers in the county are seasonal with water only flowing during the rainy season and immediately dry up as the rains subside. For such rain falling within that short duration, farmers lack the infrastructure to store the vital rainfall when it comes. The two storage tanks will provide the storage the communities need to get through the dry season.
The Self Help Group constructed the project by themselves with technical supervision. The community also donated the land where the project has been implemented. The group collected local materials (sand, stones and water) needed for the construction of the guttering system, the two 190m3 storage tanks, the water kiosk and the sanitation unit. The members through their group committee put in place all the legal agreements and permits (land agreements where the tanks are to be built and the government permits required) needed to enable the smooth implementation of this project.
The positive impacts of this initiative on the lives of the beneficiaries are:
- Increased availability and reliability of water to the residents of Syumile sub location, especially during the drought season.
- Reduced time and distance collecting water – this will enable beneficiaries to spend more time on farming activities and/or in education (if children collect water). This enables women to spend time on other economic/productive activities.
- Improved health – the access to improved water sources, implemented alongside hygiene training, will reduce the incidence of water-borne disease amongst communities. Past evaluations demonstrate women and girls particularly benefit from improved personal hygiene.
- Improved income – harvested water from the project shall be collected at a fee. This will result in increased income for the community enabling better management of the project and the surplus will allow the community to invest in other related initiatives.
- Environmental conservation and food security – the water from the rock catchment will enable the community to set up a tree nursery, planting various types of trees to meet their needs. The tree nursery will only require a small percentage of the water from the tanks, as the seedlings will then be planted out in the rainy season.
- Improved food production (indirect) – the spending of more time on productive roles such as terracing of farm lands due to the availability of water at closer distances results to conserved farm fields that have improved food production.
A kiosk has been constructed near the water storage tanks and users will have to pay a fee per 20 litres of water. The members of the Self Help Group – through their committee – will set up the fees (in line with those advised by the government). The fees will be collected and banked into the group’s account from where the need-to-spend will have to be authorised by all the members.
To ensure accountability on the collection of user fees and expenditure arising, the Self Help Group members have been trained on book keeping and meter reading. These fees will then be used to maintain the rock catchment and two tanks and pay for any repairs should the need arise.
The facility is expected to meet future demand and growth from the three villages intended. As the supply is likely to also attract neighbouring villages there may be a need to expand/extend the facility by building additional storage tanks in the future.
On the 1st of October Just a Drop’s project manager Melissa Campbell visited the site. She said, “We were greeted with singing and dancing, whistle blowing and drums. After walking up to the top of the rock catchment and inspecting the tanks, one of the women pointed at the Athi River (around 20kms away). She told me that this was where she used to collect water. On the way they faced the danger of being attacked by wild animals or men, and even the risk of miscarriage for pregnant women, as they struggled with their heavy containers. Men would sometimes accompany their wives to protect them from elephants (though they would not carry the water or go instead of the women!)”.
“When we visited the Athi River, we tested it and found it to contain very high faecal contamination. The women said they walked there and back one day, filling only one jerry can each as that was all they could carry. They then rested and went back the following day. So, one jerry can had to last each family two days. One lady had four children and one had nine. They topped up by digging scoop holes in seasonal river beds but it was often very hard to find water. The area is severely water stressed and there has not been a harvest there for 10 years as there has been insufficient rain.”
“Last year there were only eight days of rain. This means that whilst they could harvest crops to eat they could not harvest the seeds to be able to plant the following year and so each year they had to buy seeds again. They are hoping that now they will have water they will be able to start properly harvesting. Their primary school age children had to take five litres with them to school or they were sent home. The school is at the bottom of the hill on the other side of the catchment. Everyone was desperate for the rains to start (due end of October) and the tanks to fill. People will come for many miles to collect water from the tanks.”
In this photo, Stephen from ASDF demonstrates how the rocks/stones/gravel at the bottom of the catchment will filter the water before it is piped into the tanks. The Self Help Group will remove the stones once a year and clean them to get rid of any debris that will have been washed off the rock face. Areas of the rock are filled with cement to prevent standing water.
31 year old Reuben Mwikali is a mother of three and the secretary of Ithime Self Help Group. She says, “We used to walk over 12kms to the River Athi to get water but now it takes less than 30 minutes. Our livestock were in poor health because they spent so much time walking under the hot sun. Most of our children had to miss school as we needed them to the river to fetch water. But this has changed now.
The group has brighter future expectations now that they have water close to their homes. “I plan to educate my children from this project”, says Mwikali.
42 year old Tabitha Sammy is a mother of six. She says, “I now have more time to concentrate on my farm and I’ve even dug terraces to conserve soil and retain water after the rains. Once I plant my crops am assured of harvest however small the rains are
“Having the rock catchment is the best gift that ASDF has supported us with. We will have clean water and keep off from contracting water borne diseases. It is a miracle from God.”
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