Uganda: Harvesting water to build community resilience in Karamoja


By Lydia Wamala; 10 Jul 2015 Source(s):World Food Programme (WFP)

Nayese Village, Karamoja – As Regina Nakwang, Veronica Locham, Lina Sagal and Cecilia Kapel look down at the completed sand dam, their pride is clear to see.

“For now it may look like just a wall and dormant water, but come back in the dry season and you will see,” Regina said with a knowing smile. “It will just be a wall and sand, which is currently accumulating under the water. The water will have disappeared into the sand, which is able to retain it for months through the dry season for us and our animals.”

The families in the community are very happy to see that a new source of water has been created for their animals, which are a major source of livelihood. Some 138 households, nearly 700 people, worked together to construct the dam and will benefit from it.

“The water has been flowing away each rainy season, leaving behind a dry environment for months,” explained Lina. “But now we will be able to stop and store the water and then dig it out when we need it in the dry season.”

Requesting a dam

Veronica and Cecilia explained that the community harvested water in the past and knew the retention potential of the Nayese area. So, when WFP asked what type of community assets it could help them build, they requested a traditional dam. Knowing that traditional dams did not typically hold water beyond two months after the rainy season, WFP suggested an innovation which the community had never heard of, a sand dam. The community agreed.

“On our own we could not do it. We did not have the skills or knowledge to build such advanced infrastructure; neither did we have the means to buy the cement and tools,” said Cecilia.

Karamoja, Uganda’s only semi-arid region, suffers from inter-connected challenges ranging from chronic food shortages, acute and chronic malnutrition and poor access to social services. Frequent droughts and erratic rains, caused by the impact of climate change, have resulted in the inability of soil to retain water.

Building resilience

The Nayese sand dam is one of many water harvesting and catchment projects that WFP is supporting amongst communities in four districts of Karamoja to help build their resilience to the impacts of climate change. Sustainability is embedded into projects because the communities themselves help identify the problems to be tackled and develop a sense of ownership as they work to implement them. The involvement of local leaders also ensures the projects complement the district development plans.

WFP targets moderately food insecure households that have at least one member who is able to work. WFP provides food or cash support to every household whose members voluntarily participate in building the community assets. The food enables the households to overcome hunger in the short run, during the lean season. Extremely food insecure households – those headed by children or elderly and chronically ill persons – meanwhile benefit from unconditional food assistance.

Before the sand dam is put to use, the women’s community has started to plant vegetables, taking advantage of the increased moisture of the surrounding ground. The women are already scooping the fringes of dam, testing and proving that the new technology will provide even clean water, which they can boil and use at home. There is a plan to build a cattle trough nearby, which will be used to feed animals.

Importance of animals

Gilbert Buzu, who heads WFP’s programme in Kotido district says, “Animals are very important in Karamoja as not only do they provide income but milk and blood that boosts children’s nutrition. But, the locals have been taking their animals to far away land to find water in the rainy season. WFP’s water harvesting technologies are helping to keep the animals closer to home.”

Gilbert says the sand dam technology has worked elsewhere in other dry areas in Karamoja and in Kenya and will work in Nayese and at other new sites planned this year. He says while communities traditionally drew water from sand in the seasonal river beds after the rain is gone, the WFP-sponsored sand dams guarantee higher volumes of sand, water and a way out of vulnerability.

Additional information…


  • Themes:Climate Change, Community-based DRR, Economics of DRR, Food Security & Agriculture, Water
  • Hazards:Drought
  • Countries/Regions:Uganda
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This article was published online by the World Food Programme (WFP) and retrieved on 09/15/2015 and posted here for information and educational purposes only.