Spring Protection


By John La Roche

Spring Protection is a widely used technique in developing countries to provide safe water supply. Conventional treatment of drinking water supplies as is common in New Zealand is not economically feasible for rural populations in developing countries. The ground is usually an excellent filter for removing bacterial contamination so springs are an ideal source of water supply. However springs can be easily contaminated by surface water and are often in boggy areas with difficult access.

The first step to protecting a spring is to clean up the whole site by digging drainage trenches. Because the site will probably be boggy, a hardcore working layer is placed first. Over this there is an impervious clay layer. Spring water is collected and channeled through a gravel layer to the discharge pipe in the concrete wall. The pipe is located at a convenient height to enable villagers to fill their containers. Above and to the sides of the gravel layer a further impervious clay layer is used to keep surface seepage water out. A perimeter drain is also dug to channel storm water away from the spring area. Paved access and concrete steps are constructed to enable villagers to walk down to fill their containers without the risk of slipping. A drain to channel excess water away is also important.

The improvement for villagers collecting their water is enormous. Before a spring is protected, villagers usually have had to cope with of a muddy hole with steep slippery banks, where filling of containers is extremely difficult. You can imagine the difficulties of lifting, and the risk of slipping with a 20 kg container of water out of such a location! With the new spring protections villagers can now walk down concrete steps, place their container under the discharge pipe and then walk out with their load in safety. Water quality of course is greatly improved by the elimination of surface contamination.

Villagers take great pride in looking after their new spring protections, often planting flowering shrubs to beautify the area. A fence is built to keep stock out and the grass surrounding the spring is kept well trimmed. A Village Committee who have been elected to represent all sections of the community including women, will coordinate the village firstly to apply for help, then to assist in construction and finally to be responsible for maintenance through appointed and trained caretakers.

Unimproved springs are often shallow ponds or a stretch of soggy ground. These are sources of contamination in which mosquitoes can breed - malaria is a real problem throughout Uganda!

Water for Survival with funds from New Zealand donors has assisted 55 villages in the Rukungiri District of Uganda with money for spring protections. Just $NZ156 raised in donations is enough to help 125 people gain a vastly improved water supply! This sum becomes subsidized by NZ Government and European Union funds to become the equivalent of $NZ625 by the time it reaches Uganda. However our funds are only part of the story; the villagers themselves make significant contributions.

I was able to visit this project last November where I saw much use being made of local stone to build the walls thus minimizing the use of expensive cement. Skilled "Fundis" (stonemasons) are trained to do the skilled work. 23 Fundis have been trained by the Church of Uganda's Water Unit especially for the work. The Fundi will be paid 85,000 Uganda Shillings = $NZ150 for each spring completed. Of this sum the community pay half and the other half is included in the funding from Water for Survival. Local people are responsible for gathering all the stones, breaking them up (by hand) for concrete aggregate and the gravel drainage layer. Often villagers will have to cover considerable distances to collect sufficient stones. Villagers also provide all the unskilled labour, accommodation and food for the Fundis and others during construction.

Rukungiri in the south west of Uganda is one of the most densely populated rural areas where most people earn a living through subsistence agriculture. The main sources of water supply are rivers, swamps, springs and rainwater. WaterAid, the United Kingdom charity through whom Water for Survival is able to channel funds to Africa and India, has formed a partnership with the Church of Uganda who have trained a number of their clergy to undertake water supply and sanitation projects. The program which commenced in 1991 aims to protect 1,000 springs assisting 120,000 people.

I met the staff involved, all Ugandans from the region who were very dedicated to their work and obviously extremely competent. The Rev Eric Kamuteera, the Project Administrator is responsible for receiving applications, procurement of materials and for issuing them to the job as required. Eric explained how the application procedure was handled and no village was disadvantaged by not having people competent to write good applications. Eric often helped them in this task. The Rev Richard Bamanya is the Project Officer responsible for technical maters. Richard spent 6 months on a Nuffield Scholarship at WEDC, The Water and Engineering Development Centre at Loughborough University in UK studying a specialist course in community water supplies for developing countries. After Eric received an application it was over to Richard to assess the technical and other issues related to each spring. I was most impressed with the quality of workmanship achieved and the innovative designs used. Each location is different and hence needed individual consideration. In some locations where spring flows were small, a reservoir chamber was incorporated to enable the water to accumulate in times of low usage such as through the night.

The Rev James Rulenti is responsible for promoting the sanitation program using san-plat slabs and VIP type latrines. Sanitation coupled with health and hygiene education is an essential component along with better water supply needed to gain overall health improvements in villages.

Where villagers live a subsistence lifestyle, raising money to pay for materials such as cement, reinforcing steel and pipes is very difficult, so this is where our help comes in. The daily task for most Ugandan women and children of going to collect water is something few of us have ever had to cope with, and probably have never given a moment's thought! In Uganda it usually falls to women and children who stagger up steep hillsides with 20 kg of water on their heads! Sometime why don't you try just lifting a full 20 litter container of water up to your head level? Then imagine walking with it on your head up a steep hill every day! $156 will make the task of filling containers for 125 people in a Rukungiri village so much easier and the water they collect will not be contaminated. Please help by sending a donation to Water for Survival, P O Box 6208, Wellesley Street Auckland. All donations are tax deductible.

 Contact John La Roche Phone/Fax 09 528 9759 or Email


Every $1 you give provides a child with safe water for a year!

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