Skip to content

World water day and what it means for Tsavo

Today is World Water Day, a day dedicated to perhaps the most important substance on Earth. A combination of the chemical elements hydrogen and oxygen, H2O is crucial for almost all life, from microscopic bacteria procreating in tiny puddles to hulking elephants roaming Tsavo’s landscapes.

For many Kenyans recently, including us at Tsavo Trust, water has been a key focus for 2024, with El Nino rains pouring across the country, proving to be both a blessing for some and a curse for others. So for this week’s article we are going to explore all things water and how they relate to Tsavo Conservation Area and the animals and people that live within it.

Water security

Adequate access to clean water ensures the survival, health, and well-being of wildlife populations, enabling them to thrive in their natural habitats and maintain ecological balance. Similarly, for human communities, water security is essential for sustaining livelihoods, supporting agriculture, ensuring sanitation and hygiene, and promoting overall health.

Without reliable access to clean water sources, both animals and humans face heightened risks of disease, malnutrition, and conflict over scarce resources. Thus, ensuring water security is not only crucial for safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem health but also for enhancing the resilience and communities worldwide.

Sand dams

Sand dams are an effective method for working with the natural environment and enhancing water security. They work by capturing water, silt and sand during heavy rainfall. The sand, settling at the base of the dam, gradually builds up while the water and silt flow naturally over the top of the dam, carrying on down river.

Once the rain has stopped, large amounts of water are retained within the thick layer of sand, filtered clean and protected from evaporation . The retained water has huge impacts on the surrounding environment by creating better conditions for vegetation growth. Additionally, lots of wildlife, especially elephants, will dig into the sand to access the water within.

World Water Day Sand Dam
A lioness walks next to a sand dam within the Tsavo Conservation Area

Sand dams have proven to be very effective in providing water security for animals in dry arid regions, like Tsavo. Water supply and distribution is a huge challenge in the Tsavo Conservation Area, particularly during the dry season due to erratic rain patterns and the sandy soils that cannot hold water for extended periods.

Over the past five years, Tsavo Trust has built 13 sand dams for wildlife in Tsavo National Parks—5 in Tsavo East and 8 in Tsavo West. All these dams are now storing sand and water, with many reaching full capacity after substantial rains in November and December 2023. Tsavo Trust persists in fundraising for this critical project.

Enhancing community water security

Providing water security for animals is only one step in a holistic conservation strategy. Protecting the livelihoods of the community around the conservation area is also crucial. Not only does it foster coexistence and reduce human-wildlife conflict but it is also reduces harmful practices such as deforestation for charcoal production and poaching.

In terms of protecting water security for the community, Tsavo Trust has made huge strides. Partnering with USAID and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), we provided 10 dam liners, each with capacity of 60,000 litres, and 28 water tanks, each capable of holding 3,000 litres, to the Kamungi Conservancy community.

20230103 Kamungi Conservancy Damliner
A recently installed liner fills with water

The recent El Niño rains showcased the impact of these interventions, with the community collecting approximately 6,684,000 liters of water, expected to sustain 828 beneficiaries for three months post-rainy season.

Dam liners have empowered households to utilise surface runoff water for soil erosion prevention, food security enhancement, and environmental restoration efforts through tree seedling cultivation.

The impacts of El Nino

We cannot talk about World Water Day without briefly mentioning the huge impact El Nino has had this year. El Nino disrupted the typical climatic patterns of the Tsavo Conservation Area, bringing unexpected heavy rains instead of the usual dry spell.

This deviation has had a profound impact on the area’s unique flora and fauna, notably the social dynamics of its elephant populations. While the prolonged rains pose challenges for human populations, including flooding and destruction, they bring substantial benefits to Tsavo’s wildlife.

How Large Is An Elephant Herd
Large herds of elephants gathering after the rains.

Historically, droughts have threatened the survival of thousands of elephants in the region. Conversely, during the rainy season, elephants can thrive, engaging in vital social behaviors such as herd gatherings, family bonding, and mating activities.

The consistent rainfall ensures reliable nourishment for all animals in Tsavo, creating a period of abundance and emphasizing the interconnectedness between global climate patterns and the resilience of ecosystems. As we celebrate World Water Day, it’s essential to recognize the pivotal role of rainfall in sustaining the balance of life in Tsavo and beyond.

Protection from pollution

Amidst the focus on water conservation, we cannot overlook the pressing issue of pollution plaguing the Athi River. This vital waterway, serving as a lifeline for both wildlife and human populations, bears the burden of severe contamination as it winds its way through Nairobi’s urbanised and industrialised zones.

The river grapples with a myriad of pollutants, including uncollected waste, human sewage, industrial discharges, agrochemicals, and petrochemicals, posing grave threats to its ecosystem and the health of millions reliant on its waters.

The consequences are dire: dwindling fish populations, unsanitary water quality below national and WHO standards, and a surge in waterborne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea among river-dependent communities.

It’s imperative to recognise the urgency of protecting our rivers from pollution, safeguarding not only the environment but also the well-being of both wildlife and human inhabitants who rely on these vital water sources for their survival.

Pollution In The Athi River
The Athi River showing signs of severe eutrophication, caused by human pollution.

As we mark International World Water Day, it’s clear that water is not just a fundamental element of life but also a critical component of ecosystems and human societies. From the provision of clean water for wildlife to sustaining livelihoods and fostering community well-being, ensuring water security is paramount. However, challenges such as climate anomalies and pollution persist, underscoring the ongoing need for collective action and commitment to safeguarding our precious water resources. On this World Water Day and beyond, let us reaffirm our dedication to protecting rivers, sustaining ecosystems, and securing a water-rich future for all.

If you would like to support Tsavo Trust in its efforts to protect wildlife, communities and water security, please consider donating.

Back To Top