Sand dams for peace

The root causes of many of today’s conflicts are likely to lie in poverty, food and water insecurity. Sand dams – simple reinforced rubble cement walls built across a seasonal sandy river to retain rainwater and recharge groundwater – are contributing to a real opportunity for change in a Kenyan rural area.

Source: Excellent Development

Competition over water and land resources is one of the key root causes of conflict in the world. In Baringo County, mid-west Kenya, severe shortages of water and grazing grounds have led to strife between pastoralist groups for many years. Excellent Development is pleased to announce that sand dams will now play an important role in bringing peace to the county.

The reality of hunger

When rain does come in Baringo County, it usually arrives in short, torrential bursts, washing away the little fertile topsoil there is.

This year, aside from two days of rain, the spring rains failed altogether, and it is doubtful that there will be any rainfall now until October or November. The soil is parched and rock hard – growing food is next to impossible.

Our Executive Director, Simon Maddrell, visited the area on a sand dam feasibility study in May. He was told that six people had already died of starvation this year. And these are only the reported cases, the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

“Two people have even died eating wild fruits and were poisoned – never mind parents having to skip meals for their kids, cattle rustling and people resorting to illegal game meat” Simon explains.

In such desperate conditions, it is not surprising that conflict over resources is common. Lives have been lost in cattle raids and revenge attacks, adding to the misery of communities.

Time for change

People are hungry for change. So they readily embraced assistance offered by Initiatives of Change International, an organisation that takes a holistic approach to peace, development and environmental issues.

Since 2012, the different pastoralist groups have come together and created a peace committee to overcome their hostilities, and find solutions to their common problems of land degradation, water and food insecurity.

We are pleased to report that sand dams have been identified as one of the solutions in their plan. During Simon’s recent visit, the communities decided to build two sand dams alongside other water solutions, which were chosen based on the suitability to local conditions.

Working together

Community members are working together to identify sites for the dams, collect building materials and will construct the dams jointly. As part of the peace and trust building process, they will also jointly attend learning visits with our partners in Kenya, Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), to help address other priorities, such as climate-smart farming and holistic livestock management.

Simon says: “We agreed that a holistic approach was needed that considered water, pasture, livestock and agriculture.”

Once the sand dams are in place, water from heavy downpours will no longer be lost, but stored in the sand for year-round use – addressing some of the most urgent needs.

Restoring the degraded lands and achieving lasting peace will take time and hard work, especially if the current harsh conditions persist. There are likely to be challenges on the way, but we are thrilled that sand dams will play a significant role in the process of bringing hope, opportunity and peace to the people of Baringo County.

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