Irrigation Water: Havesting the Rain
The Siandwazi Rainwater Harvesting Project is something that SAM is very excited about. It is clean water, hectares of irrigated land, and the capacity to farm fish and rear livestock for those currently walking kilometers to the nearest drop of water. We’re striving to raise the standards of development in Zambia with unprecedented levels of benefit and community involvement.
What is Rainwater Harvesting?
Rainwater harvesting involves the capture and storage of seasonal rainfall for use in times of water scarcity. The escaping flow from soil, roofs, and rivers is retained through a variety of different technologies, such as cisterns, dams, and earthworks. Zambia’s seasonal rainfall makes rainwater harvesting a promising route to addressing water-related hardships, especially in areas with low groundwater productivity.
Rainwater Harvesting in Zambia
Zambian rainwater harvesting is dominated by the construction of Earthen Catchment Dams, compacted embankments of soil laid across non-perennial streams which retain escaping run-off in a reservoir. Undeniably, they have helped Zambians survive through the dry season through providing water for domestic use, livestock, and gardening. However, they are often expensive and under-utilized – $100,000 structures are found supporting only a couple of gardens. Small modifications can remove these limitations.
Based off of a model dam in the Bbillili area (pictured), SAM has collaborated with the Siandwazi community to build a dam and irrigation scheme that will use dry-season run-off to irrigate hectares of community gardens. The water is pumped using gravity-powered siphons and distributed along cement canals with wooden sluices. The technique eloquently provides low-maintenance irrigation to large areas of individually owned gardens.
A New Standard of Benefit
The pre-dam conditions in Bbilili resemble those of Siandwazi – near starvation and day-consuming walks to water. Now, the villagers exclaim their progress since the dam construction with enthusiasm. Those who once struggled to send their children to school are selling enough vegetables to purchase tin roofs and cars. An entire community came from complete poverty and is now living something resembling a comfortable life. Success stories of this magnitude are rare in community development.
Investing in Quality and Sustainability
Going Further: Siandwazi Dam
SAM is currently striving to raise the bar further with the Siandwazi Dam project by increasing environmental considerations, community agency, and risk management. With these topics as top priorities, the dam has already been sited, constructed, and filled with the 2017/18 rains. Now, we are collaborating with the Siandwazi community to redefine how a dam relates to community development. 2018 onwards will see the construction of a clean water drinking scheme and the delivery of workshops in gardening, budgeting, marketing, dam maintenance, fishing, livestock, nutrition, reforestation, and conservation farming.
SAM is currently researching rainwater harvesting approaches that have seen success in other countries to forward them in Zambia in future projects. Technologies such as sand dams, roof-water harvesting, and small-scale earthworks all have potential to bring water to the communities where boreholes and earthen dams aren’t feasible. Decentralized approaches also address the commonly neglected limitations of boreholes and earthen dams – that they rely on heavy external investment and people still have to walk kilometers to access them.