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By John La Roche, a New Zealand engineer and author
Water from underground has many advantages for rural people in developing countries. It is usually free from the bacterial contamination associated with surface water in regions where sanitation facilities are not common.
In the Kabarole district of Uganda, there is a growing effort to provide hand-dug water wells. Kabarole is in western Uganda, part of Africa's Rift Valley which runs through a chain of lakes from Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda to Sudan and the Red Sea.
The district is a particularly poor area where only 4% of the people have access to safe water. Much of the area has been recently resettled after eradication of the tetse fly and the return of political stability. Existing water sources are usually unprotected holes in the ground which dry up in the dry season, leaving women to walk several hours to nearby lakes.
A charity called called Water for Survival has been helping to dig hundreds of wells in the Kabarole district in recent years. The projects include wells plus hand pumps.
As has been found in many developing countries, involving local people to help themselves build the facilities they need is the best way to achieve long-term success. Outside help is only a small part of the process which is designed to leave the local people with their own pride of ownership and the satisfaction of having made their own decisions and worked very hard to achieve their new well.
I was fortunate to visit this project ilast year. All project staff are Ugandans led by Walude Mutwalibi, a most enthusiastic young engineer with a degree from Kampala University and a diploma in Ground Water Management from the Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University in the U.K. Walude was responsible for a WaterAid team of technicians, drivers and health educators who liaise with local communities to help them with technical decisions and the expert help needed to construct the wells.
Walude explained that each well serves a community of 30 to 50 families, or about 250 people who will decide where they want the well to be sited. Community decisions have led to a number of dry wells being dug but with greater experience from the initial phase of the program, the success rate has improved to 75% from 33%. No external funds are used in unsuccessful wells -- just the disappointment of villagers who have dug a dry hole but who are quick to learn!
The first step in the process is the formation of a water committee including women who will be responsible for mobilizing the community, including planning and managing the unskilled labour for digging the well. Caretakers will be chosen and trained for the management and maintenance of the hand pump, well and surroundings.
At one completed well I visited, the local community members were busy cutting the grass with bush knives and generally keeping the well clean and tidy. A health education program is conducted in each village and it will be the caretaker's responsibility to ensure the benefits of the new well are realized by good hygiene.
A handpump user fee of 100 Ugandan shillings (or $0.28 USD) per month is charged to help pay the maintenance costs, although this will need to be increased as people better understand the advantages of their new well and gain economic advantages. There is concern, however, that some communities can't afford even the basic contribution at this stage.
Wells are dug by hand using a tripod and hoisting bucket to dig through the clay surface layers to water-bearing formations. A hand-dug well, although more expensive and difficult to construct than a tube (drilled) well, has a number of advantages. If the hand pump fails and cannot be repaired, an access hatch in the concrete cover slab can be used to draw water with a bucket. If the water table drops, it is usually possible to deepen the well whereas this is often not possible with a tube well. A hand-dug well provides greater storage capacity and hence can utilize low permeability soils and a greater draw off during the day.
Prevention of contamination from surface water is important by forming a concrete surround with a good drainage channel taking wastewater away to garden areas. It is also important to seal off the lining near the surface to prevent surface water seepage down the lining. The Kabarole wells are lined with 8 segment precast concrete rings manufactured by the villagers using local materials. Tara handpumps made in Finland were being fitted to all the Kabarole wells. The Tara is a simple, well-balanced pump which is easy to use with corrosion-resistant plastic and stainless steel parts.