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December 3, 2023
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Large-scale rainwater harvesting eases scarcity in Kenya

Rainwater harvesting in Kenya and other places is hardly new. But in this water-stressed country, where two-thirds of the land is arid
or semiarid, the quest for a lasting solution to water
scarcity has driven useful innovations in this age-old
The African Water Bank (AWB), an international
nonprofit, has committed to providing and managing clean water using a much cheaper and efficient method.
The technology’s main focus is to harvest and store
rainwater on a large scale. It has features such as an
enhanced collection area, a guttering system and a
storage system. Additional features include filters,
water gauges and first flush devices.
A typical AWB rainwater harvesting system collects
400,000 to 450,000 litres of rainwater within two
to three hours of steady rain. It has an artificial roof
of 900 to 1,600 square metres and storage tanks.
The largest tank ever constructed in Narok County
has a capacity of 600,000 litres. All the units can be
expanded per the owners’ needs.
This amount of water can serve a community of 400
people for approximately 24 months without extra
rain. The capacity can be added at a rate of 220,000
litres per year. The system is low cost and can be 100
percent maintained locally. It also uses local skills,
labour, materials and technology.
A typical AWB harvesting system collects 400,000 to
450,000 litres of rainwater within two to three hours
of steady rain.
Chip Morgan, AWB’s Chief Executive Officer, says
their system collects huge volumes of rainwater
and conserves it in large storage tanks. “This is akin
to one earning money and saving it in a bank, the
reasons we are called AWB,” he says.
He adds that the size of the system installed by
households is dependent on their needs.
Currently, AWB focuses on the semiarid Narok
County, in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, mainly occupied by the pastoral Maasai community. The technology has also been introduced in the semiarid Pokot,
Machakos, Samburu and Kajiado counties in Kenya
as well as in Zambia’s Chavuma district. Most of the
clients are homes and institutions such as hospitals and schools.
Construction of tanks is funded by communities,
donors and individuals who pay 50 percent up front
before construction begins. Morgan says that despite
growing demand, they are still in a phase where people are learning of the immense potential of the
initiative. “This year we are fully booked. Our target
is to build 50 units in a year,” he says.
The AWB CEO, who has worked for decades in the
development sector starting in his native Australia,
where water scarcity is a challenge to communities residing in remote areas, argues that one of the
reasons why people are poor in many parts of the
developing world is lack of water.
According to the 2012 Joint Monitoring Programme’s
report, access to safe water supplies throughout
Kenya was only 59 percent, while access to improved
sanitation was 32 percent. The situation might have
improved of late, but the challenge of access to water
in both rural areas and urban areas still abounds.
Due to poor access to water and sanitation, says
Morgan, water, sanitation and hygiene-related illnesses and conditions are the main cause of disease
among children under five.
Meanwhile, just a small tank can irrigate a greenhouse on a one-third acre piece of land, thus promoting food security. As a result, AWB is keen to
work with companies involved in the provision of greenhouse irrigation services to assist communities engaged in commercial farming.
Access to water and sanitation is also vital in reducing
women and girls’ workload since culturally, fetching water is their job. This enables them to attend
to other activities, such as school and homework.
Morgan notes that they use both skilled and unskilled
local labour and continuously train their technicians.
This is essential because the emergence of plastic
tanks had killed demand for concrete ones, resulting in a decline of the number of concrete tank technicians. He says concrete/masonry tanks can last a
AWB has two engineers. They offer training to technicians from outside Kenya. Four Ugandan community-based organisations have benefited from
AWB’s skills transfer programme by sending their
members to be trained on AWB rainwater harvesting technology.
Wataka Stephen, a trainee from Mbale, Uganda,
says he was keen to acquire skills and transfer them
to Uganda. “I intend to utilize the skills that I have
acquired to employ myself,” says Wataka.
Swaga Jaberi, another Ugandan undergoing training at AWB, says his home region in eastern Uganda
relies heavily on boreholes, but they are drying up as
the water table decreases. Borehole digging is also
AWB’s rainwater harvesting technology is unique
compared to the systems common in Uganda, he
says. Jaberi intends to target hospitals, schools, and
community centres as his potential clients.
The AWB rainwaters harvesting is indeed beneficial
to communities in the semi arid Narok County. Apart
from saving livestock during perennial droughts, it
is also boosting education. Tonkei Ole Tempa, headmaster of the Ilkeek Aare mixed Day and Boarding
Primary School, cannot hide his satisfaction. He says
that since the school completed construction of its
600,000-litre water tank in March, it has enough
water to meet all its needs.
The system has a rainwater collecting roof of 400
square metres and was put up at a cost Kenya shillings 4.3 million (USD 43,000). Ole Tempa says the
school, which has a total of 410 pupils with 180 pupils
being boarders, now has enough water to last from
one rainy season to the next.
Ole Tempa reveals that enrolment has gone up. “In
2013 the school had only 106 pupils but this year it
has grown to 410,” says the headmaster. He adds that
the availability of water has enhanced the school’s
feeding programme. This has improved student
health and performance. Hygiene standards in the
school, adds Ole Tempa, have equally improved.
Indeed, various studies commissioned by Kenya’s
ministry of education and other independent bodies
in the past have indicated that in schools without
clean water and toilets, pubescent female pupil’s
absenteeism is rampant during days when they are
menstruating. This affects their performance in
school, with some dropping out altogether.
According to Ole Tempa, it is because of the vulnerability of girls that they offer boarding facilities to
girls as matter of priority courtesy of availability of
enough water. He adds that previously they used to
spend 48,000 Kenya shillings (480 USD) every three
months to buy water, but since they stared harvesting rainwater, the cost is zero.
The head teacher says that they intend to establish a
vegetable garden through irrigation to supply fresh
vegetables to the school and also rear two dairy cows
to lower spending on milk for pupils. Funds for the
construction of the roof and tank were provided by the Rotary Club in Kenya and the African Water Bank
partners. Parents also chipped in by contributing
Kenya shillings 5,000 each (USD 50). “The input by
the parents was meant to ensure ownership of the
project for sustainability purposes,” he says.
Apart from boosting access to water in arid and semi
regions, rainwater harvesting contributes to water
conservation thus reducing overexploitation of water
resources. Moreover, rainwater harvesting reduces
surface runoff during heavy precipitation which
causes floods and erosion as water is harvested.

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