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Mother Earth Day: Sand dams crucial for climate resilience

Opinion
 Apollo Group Chief Executive Officer Ashok Shah. [Courtesy]

Climate change, compounded by human activities such as deforestation, intensive agriculture, and wildlife exploitation, poses an existential threat to biodiversity and human well-being.

The theme of this year's Mother Earth Day, to be marked on Monday, April 22, 2024, underscores the critical importance of restoring and preserving our ecosystems.

Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of a sustainable future, supporting life on earth and safeguarding against the ravages of climate change.

One innovative solution that holds immense promise in this endeavor is to target the widespread adoption of sand dams. These simple yet effective structures offer a multifaceted approach to climate resilience.

Sand dams are low-cost, low-maintenance structures built across seasonal rivers and streams in arid and semi-arid regions.

They consist of a reinforced concrete wall built across a riverbed, with sand accumulating behind it during the rainy season. Approximately forty percent of the volume of the sand in sand dams is water, making it accessible to the community, especially during the dry season.

As the water filters through the sand, it refills the underground water table, supporting surrounding vegetation. This simple yet effective technology enables communities to harness and store water, transforming dry riverbeds into reservoirs of life-sustaining resources.

The importance of sand dams in the context of climate change cannot be overstated. As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly erratic, many regions are experiencing prolonged droughts and water scarcity.

In such environments, sand dams offer a lifeline by providing a reliable source of water for drinking, irrigation, and livestock, thereby enhancing resilience to climate-related shocks.

By capturing and storing rainwater, these structures help mitigate the impacts of drought and contribute to long-term water security. Furthermore, sand dams play a crucial role in ecosystem restoration and biodiversity conservation. By replenishing groundwater and restoring natural water flows, they revive degraded landscapes and support the reestablishment of vegetation and wildlife habitats.

This not only improves soil fertility and prevents erosion but also enhances ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and water filtration, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. The positive impact of sand dams extends beyond environmental benefits. By providing access to water for agriculture and livestock, these structures empower communities to improve food security, enhance livelihoods, and reduce dependence on external aid.

Sand dam projects involve local communities in their design, construction, and maintenance, fostering a sense of ownership and self-reliance. The success of sand dam projects around the world underscores their effectiveness in addressing climate change and promoting sustainable development.

In Kenya, foundations like the APA Apollo Foundation, along with various partners, have implemented sand dam projects in various counties, with transformative results. By working closely with communities, especially self-help groups, and leveraging local knowledge, the sand dams have empowered people to take ownership of their water resources and build resilience to climate change. In the face of escalating climate crises, the need for collective action has never been more urgent.

As we commemorate International Mother Earth Day, it is imperative that we commit to a sustainable future that prioritizes the health of our planet and its inhabitants.This entails embracing innovative solutions like sand dams, which offer a tangible pathway to ecosystem restoration, climate resilience, and social empowerment.

By harnessing the power of nature and promoting sustainable practices, we can pave the way for a healthier, more resilient world for generations to come.

[Shah is the CEO of Apollo Group]

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