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Masai Women in Drought-Busting Water Project

UNEP Today Hands Over Low Cost Rainwater Harvesting to Kenyan Pastoralists

UNEP Today Hands Over Low Cost Rainwater Harvesting to Kenyan Pastoralists

Nairobi, 27 September 2002 - Masai women have joined a pioneering new anti-drought initiative that promises to dramatically reduce the time spent finding and collecting sufficient clean and healthy water supplies.

The project, details of which will be announced today, involves harvesting rainwater using special, low cost, containers and the digging of mini-reservoirs or "earth pans". It will allow women to collect fresh and unpolluted water on their doorsteps rather than being forced to trek many, frustrating, miles.

Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP which is one of the key players in the project, said: " Women are on the front line in developing countries when it comes to providing water for their families and communities". "Studies from East Africa, show that the time spent finding and collecting water has, on average, more than doubled in the past three decades from nine minutes to 21 minutes.

Many women living in dry and semi arid areas tell us that they must walk up to 10 kilometres each day to find sufficient supplies. These are worrying statistics on their own, but they actually masks the real effort many women are forced to make," he said. "We are advised by women involved in this project that, once they have arrived at a water source, it can take a considerable amount of time filling containers resulting in the whole morning being lost. This is depriving them of valuable time that could be more profitably spent in areas such as education, child care or pursuing livelihoods," said Mr Toepfer.

The project, "Empowering Women in Rainwater Harvesting in Kenya", is part of a wider international initiative funded by the Government of Sweden. Similar projects are underway in Nepal, India and Bhutan and on the Pacific Ocean island of Tonga.

Today EarthCare Africa, which has developed the project on behalf of UNEP, will hand-over the new rainwater harvesting facilities to Masaai women in Kisamese, Kajiado north. It follows similar initiatives at Ilmarba, Kajiado south and at Kangemi, an urban location in Nairobi. So far facilities, capable of holding over 520,000 litres of harvested rainwater, have been installed at the three locations.

Future spin-offs from the project include kitchen gardens. The availability of moist soil around the mini-reservoirs makes ideal conditions for growing small plots of crops. The project, which EarthCare believes will be a blue-print for similar projects in dry areas elsewhere, has also assisted in providing sanitation services, in the form of pit latrines, where they have been needed.

One of the positive outcomes of the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development was that nations agreed to halve those without access to basic sanitation services by 2015. The two-year project in Kenya, which has received $110,000 in Swedish funding, is in line with recommendations made in a UNEP and Government of Kenya report "Devastating Drought in Kenya: Environmental Impacts and Responses". It also underlines important changes in land tenure which have been changing the life-style of nomadic herding communities like the Masai.

In the Kajiado District the land is being divided into individual and group ownership plots. Traditionally the people living there, mainly Masai, have been pastoralists who have used the land mostly for grazing their cattle. But the land tenure changes mean that the community must adopt a more diversified life-style which is increasing the pressure for a reliable, local, water supply.

Notes to Editors: The official handing over of the rainwater harvesting facilities at Kaijiado District, Ngong, will take place on 27 September. Journalists are invited to attend. A bus will leave Chester House at 8.00am for Ngong. For More Information Please Contact: Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, Mobile: 0733 682656, E-Mail: or Angele Luh, UNEP Regional Information Officer for Africa, on Tel: 254 2 624294, E-Mail:

UNEP News Release 2002/70

Friday 27 Sep 2002
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