Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Regional Program: Southeastern Kenya WaSH Program

Impact: 4,500 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - Nov 2023

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 03/15/2024

Project Features

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Community Profile

In Ngungani, everyone's days revolve around water - or, really, lack of water. The long journey to the water source and water-related illnesses leave the 4,500 residents with little time for anything else.

The closest water source is a river that is seven kilometers (4.34 miles) away. In this drought-stricken, semi-arid region, the river is dry for most of the year, so rather than simply dipping their containers into a pool of water, community members must dig down to reach the brown, salty water beneath the surface of the riverbed.

"Women and children wake up as early as four in the morning to go fetch [water] at the distant Iguini River to avoid the scorching sun and get more time to engage in activities like cooking, livestock-keeping, or land preparation," said our field officer, Alex.

If community members can afford donkeys, they load jerrycans on the animals' backs to get more than one jerrycan of water at a time. But those who can't afford any livestock walk almost nine miles just for 20 liters of water.

According to the World Health Organization, people drink an average of two liters of water per day, which doesn't count the amount used for personal hygiene or household tasks. In this community of farmers, it's also common for households to keep livestock if they have enough money. Every day, livestock consume roughly 20–30 liters per large or medium animal or five liters per small animal.

Within hours, that single jerrycan of water will have vanished. 

As you can imagine, the lack of water makes just about everything difficult for Ngungani's residents.

"The exhaustion...leaves little energy to concentrate on farming," Alex continued. "The school-going children are also often late to class because they have to fetch water on their way to school. The current unstable and unpredictable weather and long drought have also affected the residents' farming patterns, leading to seeds rotting in the fields. Conducting personal and household hygiene and sanitation is an affair for special occasions (like Sabbath days) because water is used sparingly."

Eight-year-old Dorcas (pictured below) is one of the school-going children Alex mentioned.

"Water at home is scarce, and when there is none, my parents cannot prepare food," Dorcas said. "We only take one or two meals per day depending on the water availability at home, and [our] farm produce. I have to bear with the thirst and sometimes forego my classes when there is no water at home. These uncomfortable conditions have contributed to my dismal academic performance in school, thus limiting opportunities [for] better careers and livelihoods."

"The hostile water crisis has made it difficult to conduct proper hygiene and sanitation (personal, dental, and household)," said 70-year-old Gabriel Kilonzo Maluki (pictured below).

"Getting water to drink or cook is strenuous, let alone for irrigation," Gabriel continued. "I had set up a tree nursery, but most of the seedlings have succumbed to the unforgiving drought and severe water scarcity. My cattle and goats are also negatively [impacted] because there is no pasture to feed them or enough water to drink. During the previous drought season, I had to sell some of my goats at a throwaway price before they could succumb to the sore semi-arid climate."

"The proposed sand dam and shallow well project will raise the water aquifers and offer the residents clean water to drink," Alex said. "There will be enough water to irrigate the crops, offering the self-help group members food security and a source of income when they sell their farm produce to other community members. The community members will easily access the water point because it is close to their homes, and spend the extra time and energy on income-generating activities like farming. They could also make more trips and get enough water to improve household hygiene and sanitation."

What We Can Do:

Our main entry point into the community is the Self-Help Group, which comprises households working together to address water and food scarcity in their region. These members will be our hands and feet in constructing water projects and spreading the message of good hygiene and sanitation to everyone.

Sand Dam

After the community picked the ideal spot, our technical team went in and proved the viability by finding a good foundation of bedrock. Now, our engineers are busy drawing up the blueprints.

We are unified with this community to address the water shortage. As more sand dams are built, the environment will continue to transform. As the sand dams mature and build up more sand, the water tables will rise. Along with this sand dam, a hand-dug well will be installed to give community members an easy, safe way to access that water.

Building this sand dam and the well in this community will help bring clean water closer to the many people living here.


These community members currently do their best to practice good hygiene and sanitation, but their severe lack of water has significantly hindered reaching their fullest potential.

We will hold hygiene and sanitation training sessions with the Self-Help Group and other community members to teach essential hygiene practices and daily habits to establish at the personal, household, and community level. This training will help to ensure that participants have the knowledge they need to make the most out of their new water point as soon as the water is flowing.

One of the most important topics we plan to cover is handling, storage, and water treatment. Having a clean water source will be extremely helpful, but it is useless if water gets contaminated when it is consumed. We will also emphasize the importance of handwashing.

The community and we firmly believe that all of these components will work together to improve living standards here, which will help to unlock the potential for these community members to live better, healthier lives.

We typically work with self-help groups for 3 to 5 years on multiple water projects. We will conduct follow-up visits and refresher training during this period and remain in contact with the group after all of the projects are completed to support their efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene.

Project Updates

November, 2023: Ngungani Community Sand Dam Complete!

Ngungani, Kenya, now has access to a new water source, thanks to your donation! We constructed a new sand dam on the riverbed, which will build up sand to raise the water table and naturally filter water over time. We also built a new hand-dug well with a hand pump adjacent to the sand dam, providing the community with a safer method to draw drinking water supplied by the dam.

"It was very frustrating to go and draw water from Tana River, which is about 10 kilometers away, but now I am happy that I will easily fetch clean water from this water point. Our cattle will also have a source of water nearby, and I will no longer be forced to herd them to the river. I will have more time and energy to play with my friends," said 13-year-old Michael K.

Michael K.

Sand Dam Construction Process

Ngungani Horticulture Self-Help Group members collected all of the local materials, like rocks and sand, required to complete the dam. The collection of raw materials takes longer than the actual construction, lasting up to four months for a large sand dam. The group also dedicated their time and energy to support our artisans with physical labor throughout the project.

First, our team drew siting and technical designs and presented them to the Water Resources Management Authority. We also sent a survey to the National Environment Management Authority for approval before we began construction.

Once the plans were approved, we established firm bedrock at the base of the sand dam wall. In the absence of good bedrock, we excavate to a depth at which the ground is compact enough to stop seepage.

Next, we mixed and heaped mortar (a mixture of sand, cement, and water) into the foundation, followed by rocks once there was enough mortar. We then used barbed wire and rebar to reinforce the mixture.

Once the foundation was complete, we built a timber skeleton to hold the sludge and rocks above ground level. Once our first layer dried, we repeated the process until reaching a sufficient height, width, and length.

Finally, we dismantled the vertical timber beams and left the dam to cure. This dam measures 48 meters long and 4 meters high and took 940 bags of cement to build.

This project took longer than normal and special attention due to a few specific circumstances. The foundation went deeper than estimated; the water for construction was acquired from a distant point (about 2 km away), and the community had not received a good harvest for a long while; thus, members had to stop work at times to seek food for their families.

The completed dam.

As soon as it rains, the dam will build up sand and store water. With this water, the surrounding landscape will become lush and fertile, and the well will provide drinking water to the community. It could take up to three years of rain for this sand dam to reach maximum capacity because, in this region, sometimes it only rains once a year!

New Knowledge

Our trainer conferred with the field staff about their previous household visits and interviews with community members to determine which topics the community could improve upon.

We trained the group on various skills, including bookkeeping, financial management, project management, group dynamics, and governance. We also conducted hygiene and sanitation training to teach skills like soap- and detergent-making and improve behaviors such as handwashing. As part of one of the sessions, we worked with the community to build a tippy tap handwashing station.

A tippy tap handwashing station.

We also touched on health problems in the community, good and bad hygiene behaviors, the spread and prevention of disease, and sanitation improvements. Finally, we covered natural resource management and the operation and maintenance of the sand dam.

"The first impact of this training will be reduction of diseases. Water treatment will also be practiced to enable us [to] reduce or prevent waterborne diseases, which are very common in our area. Again, through the construction of a tippy tap in every home, it will enable us [to] wash our hands in all the critical moments that have been taught, and this will as well help in [the] reduction of disease transmission," said 71-year-old Gabriel Kilonzo Maluki, chairperson of the water user committee.



This project required a substantial collaboration between our staff, our in-country teams, and the community members. When an issue arises concerning the sand dam, the group members are equipped with the necessary skills to rectify the problem and ensure it works appropriately. However, if the issue is beyond their capabilities, they can contact their local field officers to assist them.

Also, we will continue to offer them unmatchable support as a part of our monitoring and maintenance program. We walk with each community, problem-solving together when they face challenges with functionality, seasonality, or water quality. Together, all these components help us strive for enduring access to reliable, clean, and safe water for this community.

With your contribution, one more piece has been added to a large puzzle of water projects. In Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone, we're working toward complete coverage. That means reliable, maintained water sources within a 30-minute round trip for each community, household, school, and health center. With this in mind, search through our upcoming projects to see which community you can help next!

Thank you for making all of this possible!

August, 2023: Ngungani Community 1A

The lack of adequate water in Ngungani Community 1A costs people time, energy, and health every single day. Clean water scarcity contributes to community instability and diminishes individuals’ personal progress.

But thanks to your recent generosity, things will soon improve here. We are now working to install a reliable water point and improve hygiene standards. We look forward to sharing inspiring news in the near future!

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 - SJR
1 individual donor(s)