Over the last few years, Zimbabwe has been in a major drought due to climate change. According to NewsDay, the residents of this African country have experienced “suffocating dry spells with uncertainties on when exactly the rains [will pay them] the long-awaited visit.”

The uncertainty of rain has led many Zimbabweans, especially children, to become undernourished and thirsty at all times. With 90% of agriculture being rain-fed, most of the food sources are also being destroyed.

This is where the international NGO Practical Action steps in. These expert problem solvers have developed a way to contain the little rain that does fall and allow it to be used for everyday water needs by harvesting rainwater in Zimbabwe.

Practical Action states that one key source of clean water is through “harvesting rainwater as it falls and retaining it in the soil or in tanks below ground.” There are a couple of methods it has come up with to help store rainwater, for both irrigation and drinking purposes.

First, by constructing divots into the earth, people can trap the rainwater instead of letting it run off the land. This better sustains crops, which improves nutrition.

A second way to capture and store rainwater is with tanks. Practical Action gives many examples of how to do this, including water falling off of roofs, flowing out of dams or gathering up in puddles. Underground or above ground, tanks are useful for collecting rainwater and storing it for an indefinite amount of time until it is needed.

There are many benefits to this innovation. Harvesting rainwater in Zimbabwe can be done whether there is a little sprinkle or a storm. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority said: “The claim that rainwater harvesting is only possible when the rains are heavy is, unfortunately, one of the biggest misconceptions that have scuttled rainwater harvesting efforts in the past.”

People can harvest rainwater year-round, so Zimbabwean families can see more impactful results.

Zimbabwe local and Rainwater Harvesting Chairman Tias Sibanda has noticed a change in his life due to his use of this system. He remarked: “Thanks to the water harvesting techniques shown to us by Practical Action… and with the contour field structures, we are now more ‘food secure’ and have no worries about soil loss.”

Harvesting rainwater in Zimbabwe could be a hugely beneficial technique to keep families healthy and happy for the duration of the drought.

Sydney Missigman

Photo: Flickr

Tanzania ProjectMichigan State University Engineers Without Borders (MSU EWB) is developing the Buyuni, Tanzania project. The project will build rainwater-collecting devices for drinking use. Providing access to consistent sources of clean water is crucial to poverty reduction. Poverty also plays a prominent role in chronic absenteeism from school, and people in poverty tend to have limited access to clean drinking water.

Providing clean water to use for drinking and cooking, MSU EWB hopes students will attend and remain in school. EWB is a group of humanitarian organizations in more than 30 countries that aims to provide sustainable solutions through education and engineering expertise. These engineers will dig wells, design water treatment systems, build bridges, set up solar panel arrays to power schools, and complete countless other projects.

Brandon Kortum, a junior from MSU majoring in Applied Engineering Sciences and Chinese, is the Project Lead for the Tanzania project, which began in January. Kortum has worked with MSU EWB since the start of his undergraduate career. “I joined EWB because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to use the skills that I learned in college to help people around the world,” Kortum says.

The MSU EWB team works in Buyuni, Tanzania with a non-profit organization, Salvatorian sisters, to collect rainwater on a secondary school and use it for drinking. “We are hoping that this project will make it easier and cleaner to attend school,” notes Kortum.

The system will first collect rainwater in a gutter system on the roof of the school. Then, they remove larger debris and rough pollution in a first flush system. After the first flush system, the systems will store water in four 15,000-liter tanks in the courtyard of the school.

The water, along with supplemental water from the school’s well, passes through a slow sand filter. Next, that sand filter then removes any particles in the water. Afterward, the systems will purify the water using chlorine stored in numerous large water tanks. From there, people can use the water for drinking or cooking.

The project is incomplete, but the team hopes this new system will increase school attendance. They also hope the overall well-being of the students will improve and be a step in fighting poverty in Tanzania.

If anyone is at all interested in joining, EWB-USA has chapters in many major cities and universities with over 16,000 members. Contact information for chapters near you can be found at or by simply searching for local chapter websites.

Alexis Pierce
Photo: Flickr

Rainwater Harvesting Systems
With a rapidly growing population and unpredictable climate, the citizens of Kenya find themselves in an increasingly dire situation of water insecurity. However, a few recent innovations using rainwater harvesting systems are taking key steps towards changing that and eliminating water insecurity in Kenya.

In a population of 46 million people, nearly 50% live below the poverty line. To make matters worse, an extreme weather climate means that the country at times enjoys plentiful rain and an abundant water supply, while at other times drought leaves much of the country with little water.

The resultant water insecurity in Kenya means that many — particularly women and children — spend as much as one-third of their day walking to get water. In times of extreme drought, citizens can be forced to walk more than nine miles in search of fresh water.

Several non-governmental organizations in Kenya and abroad are currently working hard to end this trend and create innovations to combat water insecurity in Kenya.

The Africa Sand Dam Foundation, along with several other organizations, have begun partnering with communities to build rock catchment systems that can be used as effective rainwater harvesting systems during Kenya’s wet seasons.

The system uses naturally occurring rock outcroppings to divert the rainwater into a large collection tank where it can be saved and stored for later use. Using the new system allows villages to collect upwards of 90% of the total rainwater in the area and because it uses no chemicals or fuels, the system has very little environmental impact.

Experts who’ve developed the infrastructure work closely with local villagers to teach them how to build and maintain the system. Each village also has the opportunity to form a committee to oversee the construction and maintenance of the system, ensuring that it will be used properly and continue to be efficient long after the experts have left.

This new method has the potential to dramatically change the situation of water insecurity in Kenya since a consistent, reliable water source will allow citizens to be more productive and focus their energy on other areas instead of spending much of their day searching for water. Many schools have already seen benefits and many no longer have to ration water during lengthy dry seasons.

Since the rainwater is run through a filter embedded within the system, the number of waterborne diseases has also been dramatically reduced and places that have begun to use the system have already seen improvements to overall health.

Water insecurity in Kenya isn’t the only thing being improved by these new innovations either. The village committees that oversee the systems are also able to sell some of the excess water that is collected that they can then use to invest in other projects.

One village, for example, earned $160 from selling water that they used to purchase ten goats for the community. The goats can then generate their own income that results in a multiplying effect within the community. The end result is a drastic improvement to the overall health and welfare of the community and an avenue through which these communities can lift themselves out of poverty.

Water insecurity in Kenya is a significant, ongoing problem that for years has hindered growth in the country and left Kenya’s citizens at the mercy of the weather with few resources to combat their situation.

New rainwater harvesting systems currently being developed have the potential to reverse this problem and provide the people of Kenya with the help they need to make the necessary push towards development. The hope is that in time the entire country will have consistent access to clean water and the ability to thrive without development assistance.

Sara Christensen

Photo: Flickr