Underground tanks, the survival of Mandera

Holding her three months old daughter on her left whist Rahma Adan aged 26 stood next to her Somali hut. Her tired, freckled face gawked in every direction. She stooped over the ashy breakfast fire, the coal still alive. It was nine o’clock in the morning when we drove to the village of Barwaqo to monitor one of our water projects.

Hardship steaming from the climate is something these Kenyans are used to facing for long. Many pastoralists in this part of the country have been reduced to below poverty levels over the years by consistent droughts. Unpredictable rainfall, recurring drought and loss of soil fertility which have made farming impossible and accepting donated food are the day’s ordeal.

The village of Barwaqo 28 kilometers to the west of the main settlement of Rhamu has benefited from an underground rain water harvesting tank of 396 cubic meters under the recent DCM II Cordaid funded project in Mandera.

Abdia Bare, Rahma’s mother stood alongside her for a moment. Not wanting to intrude our conversation but unable to stop staring. Four other women, walking two abreast, approached their shoes loud on the narrow rocky walkway. The crowd was starting to build up with curious on lookers all around. Even little Amina, Rahma’s third child joined hovering a half filled basin of water over her head from the tank 84 meters away.

The people in this village are pastoralist drop outs from the 2006 drought. About three years ago the local elders decided to settle in the present site of Barwaqo village. The village has 87 households. From a traditional nomadic way of live the community of Barwaqo has now became sedentary. They use to fetch water from Mado shallow wells 18 kilometers away. The terrain was tiresome, I came while thirsty. The journey took the residents almost five hours to and fro a day. During the stress drought periods this community relied mostly on water trucking from Rhamu.

Availability of water in this area was not easy according to Abdifatah Hussein “We can now hire water tankers on our own and store in the tank during the dry season. But we had nowhere to put even the trucked water before.”
The community of Barwaqo has taken their initiative six months before the intervention after a local NGO Rural Agency for Community Development and assistance -RACIDA conducted a community managed disaster risk reduction workshop for four days. Together with the agencies personnel they were taken through various risk assessments, identify their capacities put measures to avert their vulnerability. At the end of the fourth day the community was able to develop their own development strategies and community action plans were formulated.

They were able to form their own association/management committee that have taken their own initiative to mobilize resources at community level and again shared their plans with other stakeholders in the district. Until then when RACIDA intervened after it has realized the community potential and mobilized them to start the construction of an underground tank. Roles were clearly defined between the community and the agency. The tank construction took 43 days and immediately it was completed it has harvested water from the last short rains.

Underground tanks plays a strategic role in providing water for domestic use during prolong dry periods in this part of the world. The tanks are in most cases constructed where it is supplemented with earth pans, otherwise it may not be cost effective and reliable to construct underground tanks on their own.

Berkads are not a new technology and use surface water run-off to fill the tank during the rains. Their main advantage is to store water towards the end of the dry season for those left in the village while the men and older boys are away with the livestock.
After the construction of the tank an estimated 87 households in the village have now access to water for a period of 2-3 months of the dry spell on alternate days under community management.

More pastoralists have now become sedentary in this village since the construction of the tank. The community has seen the need to establish a school and they were able to gather 19 pupils for the first year.

Distance to water points is now reduced from 18 KMs to less than a kilometer and we spend our time on other activities within the household. Responding to my question of the specific thing they do now, Rahma asserts that;” since there is no much to do here, we can at least take care of our children because we have time for them. Just having the rest I have is what I did not enjoy from my childhood. I also do weaving to add something small to my small hut.”

“When I took it to the river to fetch water it stood there, head hung as if abashed pointing to her emaciated donkey. It is still weak and cannot even afford to deliver any load.” Rahma says.


  • Community mobilization, identification and agreeing on the roles of each.
  • Soil is excavated by community as they own contribution with RACIDA’s mason supervising.
  • A rectangular pit of 3M x 12M x 11M is built from the foundation with a concrete slab.
  • Silt trap of 2.3 cubic meters is constructed on the inlet of the tank to collect filler materials and sand.
  • An outlet is also constructed to the opposite of the inlet to allow overflow and release the water pressure
  • Built from inside, the tank is 1M above the ground level and roofed using corrugated iron sheets and timber/steel bars
  • The mason makes an open of 2-3 fits square with a fixed lead for drawing water.
  • Excavation and collection of locally available materials is community in-kind contribution.

“Now everything is different. We have started to live; the women have now fattened, and look at their faces. They are more beautiful and clean now” interrupts Sheikh Hussein Bule the mosque Imam.

There is need to carry out capacity building activities that will steer them towards alternative livelihoods as opposed to full time pastoralism. And all will be well so longer the organization in this community stays intact and even little Amina’s basin will be full of hope and not just a mare survival.

By | 2018-10-20T04:40:49+03:00 May 20th, 2018|Success Stories|Comments Off on Underground tanks, the survival of Mandera