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About Kitui

About this Site

The average per capita income in Kitui is less than €2 per day

Water Issues

Page Contents:

  1. How Projects are Managed

  2. Aims and Objectives of the Water Programme

  3. Simple Technologies for Water Harvesting and Conservation

  4. Rock Catchments

  5. Small Dams

  6. Sub-Surface Dams

  7. Shallow Wells

  8. Using Appropriate Technology

  9. The Position of Women

Why should we support water projects in Kitui? 

  • Easy access to safe water is a basic  human right. 
  • The majority of the people of Kitui are denied this right.
  •  In Kitui, many have to walk long distances- sometimes more than 10 km each way- to get water. 
  • The burden of fetching water falls on women and girls in Kenya. 
  • Time spent fetching water is time unavailable for providing the basic necessities of life
Click Here to see details of our current projects 


Click to enlarge

A typical rock catchment constructed as a joint effort with the local community

How Friends of Kitui Water Projects are managed

Water projects carried out by FoK in partnership with the Diocese of Kitui were done by co-operation between donors (represented by Friends of Kitui), the implementing agency (in this case the Diocese of Kitui), and the beneficiaries (i.e the local communities).

1.      The main objectives were:
To ensure the best possible outcome for the beneficiaries taking into consideration the available funding.

2.      To minimise adminstration costs so that the highest possible percentage of donor funds was applied to the direct costs of the projects (i.e direct labour and materials). We aim to ensure that at least 85% of donor funds goes to direct costs, with 15% for project identification and supervision.

3.      To apply local knowledge for identifying the most needy communities.

4.      To select communities who are prepared to contribute their own resources in proportion to their abilities. In practice this means contributing locally sourced materials such as sand and gravel, and local unskilled labour. The reason for this requirement is to ensure that the beneficiaries have a sense of ownership of the final project.

5.      To ensure by agreement with the implementing agency that beneficiaries are selected solely on the basis of their need for water without consideration of any affiliation the communities might have with any particular organisation or grouping, whether political or religious.

Clearly the latter criterion poses difficulties where the implementing body is a religious organisation, in this case the Catholic Diocese of Kitui. In general, church based organisations tend to be quite undemocratic, with very centralised authority. Likewise, the parish network on which the churches tend to be organised are, in general and with some notable exceptions,  equally undemocratic. Thus, for a donor agency, it is essential that a clear memorandum of understanding be in place to ensure that the implementing body respects the donors' wishes with regard to selection of beneficiaries. Likewise the donor agency must respect the fact that, if the implementing agency is a church, then it will have other priorities and its own particular mission which may influence the decision making process when it comes to selecting beneficiaries.

In practice, this comes down to personalities. A change in personnel at the top level of a church organisation may lead to a very sudden change in policy, which from the perspective of the donor may be better or worse than before.

In the case of the Friends of Kitui projects carried out between 2005 and 2011, the following procedures were adopted:

Using the Diocesan parish network, areas of greatest need are identified and a needs assessment is carried out to establish priorities. Needy communities are encouraged to apply for support.
The programme
responds to requests from any community which satisfies the basic criteria relating to group organisation, i.e they must:

1.      have 15 or more members working together for a period of six months

2.      have an elected working committee

3.      participate in development activities to analyse community themes and come up with an action plan to respond to their needs

4.      be able to show concrete evidence of the group project work

5.      be prepared to participate in committee decisions at grass roots or Diocesan council level

6.      have a viable method of financing or labour contribution towards the proposed project

7.      open a bank account for maintenance of a pump (wells)

8.      demonstrate that all participants in the group will benefit from the project.

 The community consultation process also involves the local District Officer and Assistant Chief, representing the Local Government.

We will only sanction projects where the community is willing to contribute local labour and materials (such as sand and hardcore) for construction. These groups’ capacity will be built through training to register as water user associations and to take charge of the projects. Also Water User Committees will be elected and trained on proper management of water projects, and on proper hygiene and sanitation practices.

The outcome of this approach is a very high success rate and a track record of successful projects. We also follow up on projects to identify problems.

Other Factors

There is some debate on whether it is appropriate to provide financial or food incentives to communities to encourage them to provide local labour and materials for these projects.

Many individual donors feel strongly that beneficiaries should make a net contribution towards projects which are solely for their own benefit. Others are of the view that, especially in times of famine or food shortages, it is right and proper that food should be provided for workers. There is probably no correct answer to this question. In general, communities which have provided their own local resources without recompense seem to take greater pride of ownership in the finished project, and have been strengthened by their achievement. On the other hand, communities which have been compensated through payments or food-for-work may not have made progress in exiting from a culture of dependency.

Up to 2009, Friends of Kitui projects were all carried out with beneficiary communities providing labour and locally sourced materials without recompense. After 2009/2010, there was in effect some competition from other NGOs and donor agencies who were offering financial incentives or food-for-work to encourage communities to construct water projects. It became increasingly difficult to get communities to commit to projects unless some incentives were offered. For this reason, and from time to time, the water programme partnered with the Emergency Operations Food for work Programme (EMOP) run by the World Food Programme (WFP) to implement these projects. Our Water programme worked with the same beneficiaries used by EMoP in the targeted areas, and they provided local materials and unskilled labour for construction, thereby becoming entitled to their normal food ration as guaranteed by World Food Programme. 

However, individual donors, on hearing of these developments, began to question whether the communities were really in need if they required such incentives to participate.


Water Issues- An Overview

In this section we will try to give a broad overview of the water situation in Kitui. The amount of rainfall in the arid and semi-arid lands (ARALs) like Kitui is not the problem: the problem lies in the distribution of that rain fall, in space and time. Kitui diocese has annual rainfall in the range 250mm-800mm, not hugely different from Dublin. However, unlike Ireland, the rainfall comes in intense bursts of short duration, and at specific seasons, and of course the daytime temperatures are such that rapid evaporation occurs. Much of Kitui's water problem could be solved by improved methods of retaining or capturing precipitation. There are several low-cost, low-technology systems which can be employed to retain, or harvest, rainfall. Friends of Kitui will support simple, practical projects with a high chance of success.

The problem is NOT insoluble.

With your help, and at relatively low cost, we can help implement methods for rainfall harvesting which will make a real difference to the lives of thousands of Kitui's people.

Projects currently being supported are shown on the Current Projects page


  • Much of Kitui's water problem can be solved by simple methods of retaining rainwater.

  • There are several low-cost, low-technology systems which can be used to great effect.

  • Each project will typically provide safer drinking water for 200-250 people.

  • For as little as €1500 you could provide a safe water supply for up to 200 people.

The amount of rainfall in the arid and semi-arid lands (ARALs) like Kitui is not the problem. Kitui diocese has annual rainfall in the range 250mm-800mm, not hugely different from Dublin. However, unlike Ireland, the rainfall comes in intense bursts of short duration, and at specific seasons. Daytime temperatures are such that rapid evaporation occurs.  

Aims and Objectives of the Water Programme

The overall aim of the programme is to:

“Improve health and productivity through provision of clean water through community empowerment for sustainability development”  

 Five specific objectives have been adopted by the Water Programme as follows:

  1. To improve water availability by reducing the distance to water sources to less than 5 km from the homestead
  2. To improve women’s access and control over resources.
  3. To cause positive change in health and hygiene practices.
  4. To impart knowledge on improved conservation measures to prevent desertification.
Community Participation – The communities are required to contribute local materials and in some cases cash towards the cost of the project. In some cases this amounts to 40% of the total project cost. This has to be negotiated with the project group prior to the start of the construction and forms part of the mobilisation process.  At the same time the groups are encouraged to put in place a long term revenue collection system which can provide them with the necessary funds to carry out routine operation and maintenance or even project replacement or replication.
Construction of Water Points –  The programme concentrates on small scale technologies such as shallow wells, rock catchments and sand dams which are appropriate to these ASAL areas. Projects are selected according to predefined criteria relating to their level of organisation and commitment to contributing to the project. The programme aims to provide the following 
  • Shallow Wells (up to 30m depth, with hand pumps)
  • Rock catchments
  • Sub surface dams
  • Water harvesting (e.g collection of rainfall from roof surfaces)
  • Earth dams  

Simple Technologies for Water Harvesting and Conservation

Acknowledgements: This summary draws on material from several sources freely available on the Internet, particularly Research Report RR 6. The water resource in tropical Africa and its exploitation, by the International Livestock Centre for Africa, PO Box 5689, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It is often said that the amount of rainfall in the arid and semi-arad lands (ARALs) is not the problem; the issue is in the distribution of that rain fall, in space and time. Kitui diocese has annual rainfall in the range 250mm-800mm, not hugely different from the eastern half of Ireland. However, unlike Ireland, the rainfall occurs in intense bursts of short duration, and at specific seasons. Thus for the Kitui district, the short rains are expected in November, and the long rains are expected during March and April. 

Some areas of Kenya have plentiful water supplies: however it is of no help to know that nearby humid areas have plentiful water if the costs of distributing that water far outweigh the economic returns. It is technically feasible to pump water from lakes and distribute it by pipelines to almost any pastoral area. Saline water can be desalinated and rivers impounded to provide supplementary water supplies. These methods, however, are extremely high-cost solutions and cannot usually be justified.
The simplest form of water exploitation is to store at the river bank or lake shore. All other forms of water exploitation require the use of technology, hand or machine powered, which must be appropriate to the local conditions. For the Kitui diocese, the only practical sources of water are from boreholes (expensive and far apart), shallow wells (require groundwater supplies, in turn recharged by rainfall), or from sand dams or rock catchments. Because of the long intervals between the rainy seasons, storage reservoirs with open surfaces are of limited benefit, due to the very high evaporation rates.    

Rock Catchments

Rainfall harvesting is the term given to the conservation and storage of rainfall on outcrops and sheets of bare rock. The term can be extended to include sand dams formed in the beds of seasonal rivers. In many parts of the tropical pastoral regions there are rock outcrops which stand out prominently from the surrounding plains and receive additional precipitation from rainfall, dew and mist.  By encircling such rocks with a low masonry wall the runoff from the rock catchment can be guided into a natural storage area, blocked off with a concrete wall. Many rock catchments and storage tanks have been successfully constructed in Kenya as part of the surface water conservation programme of the Ministry of Agriculture. Even in the arid zone with an annual rainfall of less than 250 mm more water runs off the rock during a short storm of shower than can be effectively and economically trapped and stored.  

Small dams

Perhaps the most common form of water conservation structure is a small earth dam across a water channel which may have permanent or seasonal flow, and which can be constructed without professional engineering advice. 

A narrow, steep-sided valley allows the design of a short dam wall of considerable depth and a small surface area of open water which will be less susceptible to evaporation losses. A wide flat valley calls for a long wall, which may be costly, and which will result in a large surface area of open water and high evaporation.  

Sub-Surface dams

How the Sub-Surface dam is constructed

Another method of evaporation control is to use sand rivers as storage reservoirs. This technique has been used successfully for some years in East Africa where the reservoirs are known as subsurface dams. The technique depends for its effectiveness on the availability of an extensive bed of coarse sand, and many such deposits can be found in the Kitui diocese. By constructing a low weir or wall at a convenient rock bar, coarse particles can be encouraged to settle upstream of the weir. If the height of the weir is raised after successive floods, fine particles tend to be carried over the weir and a deep bed of coarse sand can build up behind the wall. This is known as “phase lifting” of the dam and is usually done one or two years after the initial construction. 

How a sand-dam is constructed


A shallow well can be sunk into the sand bed about 100 metres or so from the wall of the dam, and with suitable sand filtering can provide potable grade water for human consumption.  With careful construction, such subsurface dams can function without trouble for many years. The storage capacity of the reservoir is determined by the voids or spaces between the coarse sand particles, and typically amounts to  30 and 50% of the gross reservoir volume. Well chosen sites can drain quite considerable stretches of river, albeit slowly, and this method can sustain small livestock populations throughout the dry season. No particular skill is required in constructing the low weir, and pipes can be laid to cattle troughs, incorporating valves or taps to control wastage.  
The cost of constructing a sand dam, or sub-surface dam, is approximately €4,000- as measured by the external funding contribution required by the community. Such a dam can provide water for a community of 200 to 300 people, including their livestock. The system which has evolved for constructing these dams is a co-operation between a community group and a donor organization.    The community group makes an application to the for support, citing the number of participants in the project, and committing to providing local labour and materials. The community contribution is typically 60% of the total project cost, as measured by the value of the labour and materials they provide. The subsequent “phase lifting” of the dam, described above, will cost a similar amount of €4,000, and increases capacity further.  

A SASOL sand dam in Kitui

Shallow Wells

In addition to sub-surface dams, shallow wells are another suitable source of water for much of the Kitui diocese. If the water level is less than 10 m from the surface, it will be relatively cheap and quick to dig a well by hand. Such wells are known to have been dug to great depths, up to 120 m. Because of the cost and scarcity of mechanical equipment for digging wells, hand-dug wells will continue to be constructed to considerable depths, even though they may not represent the most economical option. 

Hand-dug wells are one of the oldest means of water supply. Begun as simple water holes in sand rivers, the concept of finding water by digging in riparian areas has spread away from the river course itself and, particularly in West Africa, deep hand-dug wells, reaching up to 100 m in depth, are used to tap deeper shallow aquifers and areas of basal seepage around rock outcrops and escarpments. One advantage of a dug well over a costly borehole is that community participation is assured from the start.
 Self-help labour is usually used to dig the well, and women and children can all help with the fetching and carrying of sand and gravel. A rural community thus identifies itself with the construction of the dug well, and this sense of communal ownership is vital if the water point is to continue to function. Open wells afford very little protection against pollution, even when low parapets are constructed to prevent the ingress of surface water.  Any water-lifting techniques involving the introduction into the well of ropes and buckets which are handled or have been exposed to contamination will create a possible source of faecal pollution. More sophisticated lifting devices, such as hand pumps, will require maintenance of one sort or another. If no maintenance facilities can be provided, open wells will be a better option. 

If, on the other hand, the hand pump is suitable for village or community level maintenance, and the frequency of use of the water point is high, it is preferable to aim for a fully protected well. For this reason, well digging should take place at the end of the dry season when static water levels are at their lowest.

In nomadic societies, water is still being raised from wells by leather buckets and ropes, or by a team of several men standing one above the other and passing the water upwards in small containers. 


To anyone who has observed this operation used to water a large herd of cattle the hourly output is impressive, and is witness to the energy which men are prepared to expend to safeguard their herds. Such traditionally developed methods, however primitive, are adapted to the situation and are an appropriate technology, if not always the most efficient. In contrast the reluctance of these same people, who are willing to expend great manual effort, to contribute money for the operation and maintenance of modern mechanical equipment is manifest in many instances, even if the money is there and the service is generally appreciated.  

Appropriate Technology for the Area

The appropriateness of any mechanical device is determined not only by its reliability and simplicity in operation, but also by its acceptance by the users. For example, it has been the East African experience in pastoral areas that attempts to replace the bucket and rope, or chain of men, with a hand pump, which allows the top of the well to be sealed and the water kept free from pollution, have not been successful because it was claimed by the users that the hand pump was more energy consuming and had a lower output. Hand pumps fitted on wells were neglected, frequently vandalised or abused to the point of breaking the surface equipment. They were soon discredited and abandoned.   It has certainly been the East African experience that equipment bought from the developed world by the State or by private individuals, or presented by well-meaning donors, without insisting that the manufacturer at the same time establishes a spares holding and servicing agency, has soon failed. Borehole and other installations have been known to stand idle for months or even years, awaiting the arrival of a small but essential spare part. Many have, in the end, been replaced by other plants supplied by locally established agents, in whose interest it is to ensure that their reputation, and hence their business turnover, is maintained, and that their products and their back-up organisation give good service.  

The Position of Women

Another neglected factor is the place of women in rural water supply schemes. Women are usually responsible for the supply of water to the household, and they should be involved in or made responsible for maintenance. When this has been done, it often results in a marked decrease in the number of repairs. There are many difficulties in giving women responsibility for operation and maintenance activities in societies where, traditionally, men are responsible for "technological" tasks.  Resistance is likely to be strongest  in pastoral groups where the position of women in society is relegated to a menial or subservient role. On the other hand, responsibility for site selection and construction of water supplies is vested in women in many West African countries. Ultimately, women may be more reliable in ensuring the continued operation and maintenance of water supplies because they have a greater vested interest in their continuous operation.