Five Kenyan youth have come together to set up a rain Water Harvesting Solution for Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) areas.
The project, which has won accolades from international community is designed to leverage rooftop and shallow wells collections to widen rural catchment areas in Kenya.
The individuals, behind the project dubbed Maji Uhai are Joyreen Wanyeki, Fenton Okoth, Thomas Mbaru, Mercy Nyakangi, Lawrence Kinuthia are now in the running for the Geneva Challenge 2018: Advancing Development Goals International Contest for Graduate Students themed ‘The Challenges of Climate Change’.
“We are a group of five students all from Kenyatta University Master of Economics (Cooperation and Human Development) [MECOHD] programme. In August this year, we participated in the challenge and after a rigorous Academic Committee evaluation and Independent Jury Panel review, our ‘Water Harvesting for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands’ project emerged the best in Africa. We are now headed for The Graduate Institute Geneva, Switzerland, from November 26 to 28 for the Finalists Presentation and Award Ceremony.” An obviously elated team member Thomas Mbaru told The Exchange.
The Maji Uhai project proposal, is a revolutionary water harvesting solution targeted at Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) areas in Kenya.
It bridges the capacity gap and ensures households harvest and store water when it rains and access it during periods of drought.
“Maji Uhai is an innovative but simple model that households can easily adopt to improve their access to clean and adequate water for domestic and farm use. In turn, this will have knock-on effects in other areas such as food security, education, and health.” The project proposal notes.
The Maji Uhai model is based on the premise that ASAL areas in sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya cumulatively receive sizable amounts of rain during the year. However, due to lack of effective water harvesting mechanisms, most of the rain water flows away either as surface run off into rivers, seeps into the ground or evaporates into the atmosphere.
SMS used to evacuate harvested water
The project uses credit system and short message service (SMS) as an innovative way of ensuring water evacuation from households is done efficiently, recorded accurately, and retrieved appropriately.
“Since the central storage will be in the same community within reach of households, the Maji Uhai project management team will ferry the water to the storage point. All that households need to do once the tank is nearing full capacity is to send an SMS or call toll free and give the team their system ID number. The team will pull the details and immediately facilitate the evacuation of the harvested water.” Thomas explained.
Equipping households and institutions with water harvesting tanks and underground-borehole like storage cisterns will help maximize on water harvesting. Part of the water harvested though roof catchments into tanks will be regularly evacuated to create more space for harvesting. The evacuation model links to a central treatment and storage facility.
Here, water is stored according to account numbers of the households it has been evacuated from. There will be a small village-based management team that oversees the proper evacuation and recording of the liters of water per household. During the dry season or when the rains stop, households will have access to the water stored in their cisterns for watering their animals and irrigation as well as the clean water from the central storage facility for drinking.
According to data from water.org, with a population of 46 million, 41 percent of Kenyans still rely on unimproved water sources, such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, while 59 percent of Kenyans use unimproved sanitation solutions.
These challenges are especially evident in the rural areas and the urban slums. Only 9 out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply, leaving people to find their own ways of searching for appropriate solutions to these basic needs.
In 2015, Water.org introduced the first large-scale WaterCredit initiative in Africa, proving the viability of this market-based approach in Kenya. Water.org partnered with both microfinance and commercial financial institutions to develop and integrate water and sanitation lending into their portfolios. The initiative achieved more than double its projected impact, providing 425,000 people access to water and sanitation in both Kenya and Uganda.
The KU students have now come to offer a creative solution to the water scarcity menace in the country.
In 2017, the Kenyan government declared a national drought emergency where over 23 counties out of 47 counties were affected. Acute malnourishment and food insecurity affect more than 3 million Kenyans annually. Data by UNICEF indicated that close to 175,000 children in 10 most affected counties did not attend primary school in 2017 due to drought’s impact.
Fog Harvesting solution
The young innovators are also providing ways to harvest fog.
“Polypropylene mesh nets/ ridges are used to capture water loaded fog in coastal and mountainous areas. Collected water droplets are channeled into troughs and gutters which drain into a series of tanks. It is a cheap, simple and replicable technique, which is best practiced in South Africa.” A statement from the team reads.
The Maji Uhai project proposal seeks to contribute to the resilience building of ASAL communities by promoting access to clean and drinkable water as well as water for irrigation.
Maji Uhai is a water collection and management system. It brings together households within communities and links their water collection efforts by means of a system-based central reservoir. Households will be provided with 10,000-liter water harvesting tanks, a locally made efficient gutter system and installation services to cater for the rooftop collection.
As part of the collection system, Maji Uhai will mobilize the community and facilitate the sinking of 20-foot underground water storage boreholes to collect surface runoff.
The boreholes will be fitted with filters at the entry point of the runoff to ensure no debris goes into the borehole. This water will be used mainly for irrigation, watering livestock, and other uses apart from drinking and cooking. From the borehole, the water will be retrieved through hand pumps. These have been in use in many areas in Kenya and have proved to be functional and effective.
Every house will be issued with an identification (ID) number which will be used as their account number at the central reservoir system. Once the households harvest water through the rooftop, they have two options. The first option is to use the water directly without sending it to the central reservoir collection system.
The second option that is inevitable especially during heavy downpours, is for them to send the water to the central reservoir to create capacity to harvest more. One of the objectives of the Maji Uhai project is to expand the water harvesting capacity of the households and this is through sms evacuation of harvested water to the central storage.
The end goal of Maji Uhai in providing clean drinking water and sustainable access to water resources in ASAL areas will have a knock-on effect in other areas as well. The success of this project will see it being replicated to other communities so that at the end of it all, ASAL areas can be water sufficient and adapt well to the changing climatic pattern.
The project is expected to support efforts by the national and county governments towards attainment of SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation by 2030. The projected improvement in water accessibility is expected to affect other human development priorities such as educational outcomes, food security, health, and economic empowerment in Kenya.