For Kenya’s Nyeri County, the motto of the Mukurwe-ini Technical Training Institute – “technology to empower humanity” – has become a reality.
In this rural area, sustainable water system technologies have substantially improved the lives of students, staff and surrounding communities and have opened up a brighter future for many. Successes like theirs are what this year’s World Water Day celebration is all about.
For years, water had been a real problem for the Institute and the neighbouring farming communities. The pre-existing distribution system was gravity-fed, forcing the Institute, located at the top of a hill, to ration water among its 1,200 staff and students. Meanwhile, the nearby low-lying villages struggled to cope with the massive surface runoff caused by heavy rains, leading to ongoing conflicts with the Institute.
The area needed a solution that would even out the water distribution and mitigate the effects of those heavy rains. And thanks to the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Developments’ (IFAD)-supported Upper Tana Catchment Natural Resource Management Project (UtaNRMP), they found it.
“We felt we needed to do something and we should not have to continue suffering like that,” says Peter Kiama, UtaNRMP project engineer and member of the Institute’s board.
UTaNRMP aims to reduce poverty through sustainable natural resources management. For the Institute, that meant help with investing in a new roof water harvesting system, including a channelling and piping system, a pan with 3,000 cubic meters of capacity, a water tower and a solar-powered pump. Now, instead of simply running off, the rainwater that falls on the roof is channelled into the pan and then pumped to the tower for storage.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive.
“We don’t have to worry about water anymore. Now we have water continuously – even enough to water my roses,” says Patrick Muchemi, principal of the Institute.
The constant supply of rainwater has cut the Institute’s water and electricity bill by half.
“Hygiene and sanitation have vastly improved. This is a much more conducive environment to learning,” he adds.
Students are also enthusiastic. “I feel free because I feel clean and the school is cleaner,” says Benson Barasa, a 27-year-old student.
The improvement in water management has brought many more benefits, too.
Thanks to the solar-powered pumping system and the capacity to store water, the Institute was able to plant a vegetable garden. The crops grown here allow them to improve the nutritional value of meals served in their canteen and even create jobs.
Fifteen casual workers now help to maintain the water system and cultivate the vegetables. This includes 10 students from lower-income backgrounds employed on a work-for-study scheme.
“I can now earn some money and this eases pressure from parents,” says 25-year-old Joseph Kaaria, who stays at the school even during holidays to work in the vegetable garden. “Having my own money gives me a lot of confidence, in particular to interact with people.”
He adds, “I hope one day I can replicate this technology at home in Meru, so that my family can cultivate throughout all seasons.”
The new water system has also benefited the local environment. The Institute has planted 400 trees to stabilize the soil and contain the runoff water that used to flood the nearby villages. The perennial conflicts with community members have thus ended, too.
The Institute has also built a tap where neighbouring farmers can collect fresh water.
Amos Maina, a 47-year-old father of four, now uses this water on his farm. Without it, he would have to get water from the river two kilometres away.
He is also employed at the Institute to maintain the water management system.
“I feel good. Now I have an income and I can buy soap, oil and more food for my family,” he says. “I [can] also pay for school fees.”
The project’s success has brought new hopes and ambitions to many. The Institute’s management now plans to expand the roof water catchment system to two classroom blocks in the neighbouring primary school and also to irrigate an adjacent plot of land.
Peter Kiama hopes that water roof harvesting technology will spread further. “Farmers are very curious and supportive. We hope they will pick up our technology,” he says.
“We don’t want to stop here,” he adds. “We want to go 100 per cent green and use biogas instead of wood to cook at the canteen.” As a first step, the Institute has already planted napier grass as fodder for livestock, whose dung will be used to produce biogas.
In the meantime, the principal, his team and his students will continue enjoying good sanitation, fresh vegetables, a nice lawn – and plenty of roses.