Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Program: Sand Dams in Kenya

Impact: 500 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - Nov 2015

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 05/24/2024

Project Features

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Community Profile

This project is a part of our shared program with Africa Sand Dam Foundation. Our team is pleased to directly share the below report (edited for clarity, as needed).

The construction of this sand dam will bring a variety of important changes to this community. One great change is that a shallow well is also being constructed in the same area. To see the shallow well project click here.


The group was formed in the year 2011. The group has a membership of 20 people,  12 women and 8 men. The group is located in Musunguu village, Kiambwa sub-location, Kiteta location, Kisau division, Mbooni East district in Makueni County. Makueni County is one of 8 counties in Eastern Kenya and one among the 3 counties in Ukamabani region. The county borders Machakos to the north, Taita-Taveta to the south, Kitui to the east and Kajiado County to the west.

The county covers an area of 8,008.75 square kilometers out of which 474.1 square kilometers form the Tsavo West National Park, and 724.3 square kilometers form Chyullu Game Reserve. It has a population of 888,527 people and 186,478 households, according to a 2009 census.

The district is characterized by extreme rainfall variability. Typically, good seasons are interspersed with extremely dry seasons and variations in the onset of rainy seasons add to the difficulty of ensuring adequate food production. The district has two rainy seasons which peak in March/April (long rains) and November/December (short rains).

Reasons for group formation

Helping the orphan children in the area: The group wanted to help the children whose parents died due to HIV/AIDS by supporting them.

Water problem: In the months of July to September, the community members experience difficult water shortages. Through coming together, the group wishes to  have sand dams built along the river channel to improve water availability throughout the year.

The group wishes to have welfare activities that will improve their living standards. Through a merry-go-round financing plan, the group helps each other with dowry payments, payment of school fees, and hospital bills.

Soil and environment conservation: The group wants to dig terraces that will conserve soil on their farms and plant trees in the farms to prevent soil erosion.

Economic activities:

Livestock keeping



The main source of water is the River Tawa. The distance of the water source from their homes is 1km. The community depends on river Tawa for water. During the dry season they face acute water shortages in the area. They spend 4 hours and above in the dry season due to long queues at the scoop hole. There are many donkeys at the water point which are used for carrying larger quantities of water thus making long queues.

"Most of us wake up early in the morning around 3am in order to go and fetch water in order to return home by 7am," shared Loisa Peter. The scoop hole during the dry season is dug down to the bedrock which is deep, making it risky to use. The river channel is also eroded, making the water level low. During the dry season water turns saline making the tree program a challenge as the trees dry up.

They used to plant vegetables and French beans which were used to support the orphans after selling them. Because of the lack of water they would dry up, causing a big loss. The community's water pump has been kept in storage due to a lack of water in the river channel to support irrigation. Currently they have abandoned growing vegetables and French beans, limiting the support for the orphans.

Peninah Mbatha said, "Our livestock suffer much in the dry season as they lack enough water and also they are not grazed well because the community spends a lot of time in fetching water. Due to spending much time fetching water, we cannot engage in other productive activities."


The main crops grown the community grows are:

Pigeon peas

Reasons for poor harvest:

Unreliable rainfall pattern: The community relies on rain-fed agriculture. Unreliable rainfall in the area has led to poor harvest, hence food insecurity.

Lack of terraces: Most of the farms lack terraces which prevent soil erosion and maintain soil fertility, effecting crop production. The farmers lack the tools which are used for terracing and they cannot afford them.

Pre-harvest and post-harvest losses: Pests and diseases destroy the crops before harvest. The group lacks knowledge on how to control and prevent pests from destroying their crops. They also lack the ability to safely store the harvest, therefore their produce is destroyed by weevils.

Late planting: A lack of seeds forces the farmers to plant late, after the onset of rains, leading to a poor harvest.


Community members plant various trees which include:

Paw paws
Blue gum

They face challenges in tree planting:

Water problem: Due to a lack of water, the survival rates still remain low as trees dry up especially during the dry season.

Termite infestation: Farmers lack the skills and chemicals to control the termites so most of the trees do not survive.

Lack of knowledge on tree planting and care management: Most of the farmers lack knowledge on the care and management of trees. The result is many of the the trees dry because the farmers dig holes which are not sufficient.


Sand dam: The community seeks to create water security through sand dam building.

Soil conservation: Through the provision of tools, the community members will terrace their farms.

Income: The group wants to grow vegetables along the river bank which farmers will be able to sell and get income.

The group will increase the number of trees they plant. With water availability they will plant different tree species that can be used for income, fodder, and firewood.


This dam is one of the largest this partner has undertaken. It is 88m long and over 2m high. The collection of all project materials took three entire months, and ended in July. Trenching for the foundation of the dam took over one month. Tawa River is one of the largest seasonal rivers in the area, so construction was often a challenge. This construction was finally complete by the week of November 13.

The support from Mantrac was well received  and appreciated by the Musunguu SHG members. This is the first sand dam project to have the help of an excavator.

It was the right time for the support for the SHG since they were working on the construction of their sand dam and the task of digging trenches to control the silting up of the dam was pending. These trenches help control the flow of water around the dam, ensuring that it matures properly, retaining as much water as possible for the benefit of the community. The total length of trenching done by the excavator was 708 metres, just below a kilometre within the 4 days. This would have taken the SHG members approximately 25 days to create the trenches working on a daily basis.

The local community was very involved in helping the group build this dam. Thus, the entire community felt a good deal of ownership by the time it was finished.


Now, the community will have enough water for both farming and domestic purposes.

The availability of water within the sand dam will enable the local community save the time they spend to collect water during the driest months of the year from an average of 4-5 hours per day to 30mins – 1hour. This will release the SHG members to work on other household chores that are not addressed in search of water during the driest months of the year.

The availability of water within the sand dam will enable the community members to start small scale irrigation projects growing vegetables around the sand dam that will be a source of income and food to the locals. This will both improve food production and income for the community members. The local economy will generally improve.

The availability of water within the sand dam area will positively affect the riparian ecosystem by enabling the comeback of riparian vegetation that had already disappeared due to water scarcity – both access and availability being far less to support the ecosystem functions.

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Project Photos

Project Type

Sand dams are huge, impressive structures built into the riverbeds of seasonal rivers (rivers that disappear every year during dry seasons). Instead of holding back a reservoir of water like a traditional dam would, sand dams accumulate a reservoir of silt and sand. Once the rain comes, the sand will capture 1-3% of the river’s flow, allowing most of the water to pass over. Then, we construct shallow wells on the riverbank to provide water even when the river has dried up, thanks to new groundwater reserves. Learn more here!




Project Sponsor - CATERPILLAR Electrical Power Division, and MANTRAC Kenya