A Community-Integrated Rainwater Harvesting and Management Approach for Rural Communities in Kenya


Although there have been identified numerous ways that the earth loses its water in what is called water cycle, however, there is only one way that water comes back to earth through rainfall. East Africa is blessed to have plenty of the rainfall, especially in its highlands regions such as the Great Rift Valley highlands, Western Uganda, Eastern DRC, Rwanda, and Blue Nile highlands (Eklundh, L.1998; Ogallo, L. J. (1988). When the water comes back to the earth as rain it is relatively clean and can be harvested for domestic or general use without using advanced technology to clean it. It is good to argue that rainwater is cheap and clean and readily available in East Africa. If well harvested and managed, rainwater harvesting systems can assist different governments in East Africa supply enough water for domestic consumption, agricultural, and industrial uses. It does not a lot investment because it does not rely on surface streams, deep wells, and seas. It does not require much of treatment and needs little if any reticulation systems (Hatibu, N., Mutabazi, K., Senkondo, E. M., & Msangi, A. S. K. (2006).

However, in spite of the fact that many East African countries do not have enough clean water for their citizens’ use. We have to remember that rainwater requires least water treatment and technology. However, the governments in the region have not put enough mechanisms in place to harvest this water. When it rains it destroys everything on its way by sweeping the hills and mountains and ends up causing environmental disasters such as the flooding, landslides, and soil erosion. These problems can be avoided harnessing it for households, agriculture, industrial, and livestock’s use. It is not the case now because governments have not taken initiative to manage rainwater to improve public health and boost its economy through the establishment of water storage, dam constructions, and irrigation (Bruins, H. J., Evenari, M., & Nessler, U. (1986).

Community-Based Partners in Rainwater Harvesting in Kenya

With the coming in of the Kenyan new constitution that emphatically promotes devolution, Kenyan policy-makers should shift their natural resources management, especially when it comes to managing rainwater in Kenya. The central government should put more efforts in encouraging the county governments to invest more in harvesting rainwater to improve water supply system, public health, and agrarian economy. Those institutions involved in water management such as the Ministry of Water Resources Management and Development, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife and Ministry of Agriculture, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), and the Southern and Eastern Africa Rainwater Network (SEARNET). It is more effective to take the rainwater management issues right to the communities so that they can be actively encouraged to manage their own resources for their own good. Though there have been various efforts and significant development collaborations between the central government and other stakeholders such as International Rainwater Catchment System Association (IRCS), the Regional Land Management Unit of UNEP based in Nairobi Kenya, and other private institutions, Kenya has not yet carried out a deliberate move to decentralize the rainwater programs from the central government to the community through the new county government. This would encourage the public to actively participate in managing water found in their areas and also educate community members how to solve water problems in their own communities based how much they need it. Though the issue of rainwater harvesting in Kenya has been in the public dialogue for over three decades, there has been little or no active government intervention to put in place feasible projects that would increase clean water among the Kenyan communities (Cullis, A., & Pacey, A. (1992). Involving local communities and institutions such as religious organizations mainly churches, temple, and mosques together with women Groups would improve the use and the management of rainwater harvesting programs within community.

The Kenyan government should not leave the issue of rainwater harvesting left to development partners and community-based organizations but engage actively with those organizations to foster the use and management of rainwater harvested to benefit communities. The government and its development partners should speed up projects of water dam constructions, rainwater harvesting and storage, and well drilling in order to enable rural community’s access to clean water for domestic, agrarian, and livestock use (Mwenge Kahinda, J. M., Taigbenu, A. E., & Boroto, J. R. (2007). To be efficient, the government and private sectors must involve the use of modern technology.

A Community-Integrated Rainwater Harvesting Approach

Kenya has a relatively good rainfall. This makes it easier for both rural and urban populations to harvest rainwater for their own. It would protect them from the monthly water bills from Kenya Water and Sewage Company, and provide them with more reliable source of clean water. For those living in rural areas an effective rainwater harvesting and management would provide them with clean and reliable source of water and also help them water their vegetable gardens (Rockstrom, J. (2000).

The government, private sector, and community members should work collaboratively and use technology to harvest and store rainwater taking into consideration the flexibility of rainfall in East Africa, especially in Kenyan Northeastern regions. The modern technology can help us harvest more water in a short time and store it for over a long period. This would benefit our local communities, especially women and children who spend most of their time searching for water for their families. Rainwater well harvested and stored can not only improve economic and social living standards the community but also promote socio-coexistence within the community and improve trans-boundary relationship. This means that members of rural communities who usually fight over water for irrigation and livestock will have enough water within their own communities and reduce the needs to take their cattle far away in search of water. Consequently reducing unnecessary intercommunity conflict witnessed in northeastern region (Kaimba, G. K., Njehia, B. K., & Guliye, A. Y. 2011; Osamba, J. (2000).

Technical Aspect of Rainwater Harvesting and Its Benefits

When it rains a community or a household should have put in place mechanisms that will intercept rainwater and direct it into storage. These storage might be either in the open or buried underground. In some cases some water pumps are needed in order to direct water into or out of different storage for various usage. This rainwater once is harvested and managed well it can be used not only for domestic use but also for commercial purposes to promote socioeconomic activities within the community. Such economic activities can range from irrigating backyard vegetable gardens, watering livestock, and water sale to neighbors who do not have capacity to harvest rainwater because either they don’t have corrugated roofing, or storage capacity. Other economic activities would include cutting half of the time used mostly by women and children to go and fetch water. The same rainwater harvested and stored can also be used to produce manure that can be used to fertilize vegetable gardens and even the big farms thus improving food security and small scale horticultural activities. All these activities improve household income generation, family nutrition, community sanitation and hygiene, and reduce poverty (Fox, P., Rockström, J., & Barron, J. (2005).

As the whole world is racing to meet the UNMDGs in 2015, rainwater harvesting if well designed and well managed, Kenya and other countries in the region can meet the water requirement of UNMDGs soon. For an effective natural resources management of land, water, and forest in Kenya, rainwater harvest should be given a priority considering its importance in the society, especially when it comes to public health such as sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition. A coordinated effort is needed to optimize socioeconomic and environmental sustainability. Remember a well thought of system to harvest and manage rainwater can save the public from inundation, erosions, and flooding. This would require government planning to grow Napier grass which is also beneficial to feeding livestock. This would protect the soil and other nutrients needed to grow crops and protect community environment.


Rainwater harvesting is not new concept in Africa or among the Kenyan communities African communities, especially those living in semi-arid regions understand well the importance of rainwater harvesting. The only impediment is lack of technology and good government policies that regulate how rainwater is harvested and stored. Another thing that makes rainwater harvesting an old practice among Kenyan communities it is its simple technology. There have been successful stories where communities have used Appropriate Technology to harvest rainwater around Kenya. Such communities are mostly found in regions with limited rainfall such as Moyale, Turkana, Machakos, Marsabit, and Isiolo. These programs are sponsored by international organizations such as the World Bank, UNEP, and World Vision and involve harvesting water and storing it in sand and sub-surface dams, which can be replicated across the region from one community to another with basic skills. However, these projects should insist on training community members so that they can be able to repair and install new rainwater storage on their own once donors are gone. This ensures project ownership by the community and sustainability.


A community-integrated approach to rainwater harvesting and storage and management system is the most important solution to clean water problem not only in Kenya but to the entire continent. Government should make this approach a priority in order to solve clean water problem in their communities. The project requires minimal technology and investment, it does not need elaborated skills therefore it can be managed by members of any communities. Rainwater projects are not only beneficial for water supply but also environmental friendly. To implement such projects it calls for environmental impact assessment, planning, and execution that would involve the best places to harvest rain water, to store it, and manage it effectively to benefit the entire community. Development partners and development practitioners have to organize community training on effective way to manage rainwater for their communities. Since some community members might not have modern housing such as corrugated roofing to intercept rainfall when it rains, development partners should identify appropriate places to establish rainwater harvesting and storage places education institutions, churches, mosques, and other common places. The development partners have to consider train the community members at the beginning of the projects to ensure that there is project sustainability and serve community not only when development partners are still active but also in the future when development partners have already gone. Members of the community will see the rainwater harvesting project as their own projects thus they will ensure its sustainability.



Bruins, H. J., Evenari, M., & Nessler, U. (1986). Rainwater-harvesting agriculture for food production in arid zones: the challenge of the African famine.Applied Geography, 6(1), 13-32.

Cullis, A., & Pacey, A. (1992). A development dialogue: rainwater harvesting in Turkana. Intermediate Technology Publications.

Hatibu, N., Mutabazi, K., Senkondo, E. M., & Msangi, A. S. K. (2006). Economics of rainwater harvesting for crop enterprises in semi-arid areas of East Africa. Agricultural Water Management, 80(1), 74-86.

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Fox, P., Rockström, J., & Barron, J. (2005). Risk analysis and economic viability of water harvesting for supplemental irrigation in semi-arid Burkina Faso and Kenya. Agricultural Systems, 83(3), 231-250.

Kaimba, G. K., Njehia, B. K., & Guliye, A. Y. (2011). Effects of cattle rustling and household characteristics on migration decisions and herd size amongst Pastoralists in Baringo District, Kenya. Pastoralisme, 1(1), 1-16.

Mwenge Kahinda, J. M., Taigbenu, A. E., & Boroto, J. R. (2007). Domestic rainwater harvesting to improve water supply in rural South Africa. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C, 32(15), 1050-1057

Ogallo, L. J. (1988). Relationships between seasonal rainfall in East Africa and the Southern Oscillation. Journal of Climatology, 8(1), 31-43.

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Rockstrom, J. (2000). Water resources management in smallholder farms in Eastern and Southern Africa: an overview. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Part B:Hydrology, Oceans and Atmosphere, 25(3), 275-283.

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