Celebrating Water in a Dry, Thirsty Land

A celebration took place on the banks of a riverbed in the barren region of Samburu, Kenya, a few weeks ago. Just beyond the blessing ceremony was a rare and precious sight—something previously very difficult to find in this part of the world: water. Lots of water.

The pounding seasonal rains that normally create rivers of muddy water and flood the hardened soil gushed over a newly constructed sand dam and filled a huge reservoir that now holds enough water to provide a reliable, year-round supply of clean water for nearby villages.

This is indeed something to celebrate in Samburu, and here’s why…

The plight of women in this drought-prone part of the world, who walk for miles every day to collect water for their families, is evident in the life of a mom named Lolmodooni. We joined her on her journey through prickly brush where cheetahs hunt their prey in the blazing desert heat.

When Lolmodooni reached the dry riverbed, she began to dig into the sand, smelling the wet soil for animal and human feces. Once she hit water, about two feet down, she began to scoop the grey, milky water into her 20-liter water jug. This water is not safe to drink, and likely made her children sick, but she had no choice… until now.

See Lolmodooni’s walk for water through the lens of filmmaker Doug Irvine, who shares his experience visiting this remote part of the world in this video.

With the support of World Concern, the new sand dam was constructed with local community members doing much of the work. It not only provides natural filtration of the water through the sand, and a hand pump for easy access, it dramatically reduces the distance women have to walk to get water.  

“We thank God for this sand dam because before we used to walk tens of kilometers in search of water and then walk back home,” said Narikuni, a 30-year-old mother of four. “It is tedious and time consuming [collecting water]. Our children were forced to stay at home and miss school because of water shortage, but now that the sand dam is less than a kilometer from our home, we will be able to get enough water and have time for other errands.”

Clean water means better health. A water source near home means safety for moms and their kids, more time in their day to do the things that matter, like work and go to school. And abundant water also means more food, a healthier diet, and income.

Sand dams raise the water table, so they are an effective way to regenerate soil, enabling vegetation to grow. With this, the communities can be trained to grow vegetables which will improve nutrition and lower food costs. Vegetables can also be sold at the local market, generating income for families in the village.

So, why not just dig a well in the village? In an area like Samburu, digging wells is not always possible. The water table may be too low, and the water is often brackish, making it not fit for human consumption.

World Concern uses innovative approaches to provide clean water, depending on the context, location, and needs. In areas where it rains very little and wells are not possible or cost prohibitive, sand dams offer a possible solution.

A sand dam consists of a concrete wall built on a seasonal riverbed. With time, sand builds up on the dam. Beneath the sand, water is stored and protected from evaporation. It also filters the water and makes it clean. A well installed with a handpump is usually constructed on the banks of the same river since the water table is raised by the sand dam, and a storage tank retains clean water for quick access. Watch this animated video to see how sand dams work.

Abundant, clean water in a place like Samburu is indeed reason to celebrate. You can be a part of making clean water a reality in a remote village. To learn more, visit www.worldconcern.org/water.

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground…” Isaiah 44:3

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Cathy Herholdt

Cathy Herholdt is World Concern's Marketing and Communications Director. With a background in journalism, Cathy honed her writing skills as a newspaper editor and now enjoys sharing the inspiring stories of those World Concern serves. She has served with World Concern since 2010.

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