africa, water projects

Repairing Water Wells in Africa

7 Comments 04 November 2010

Repairing Water Wells in Africa

“You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry” rings true for rural communities with water wells that no longer provide fresh water. Throughout Africa and in other parts of the world, water well abandonment is a major concern that stunts growth of rural communities where water wells have run dry.

Sustainable development is a buzz word in the international non-profit sphere. Bringing clean water to communities who once lived without the precious resource is a rung on the ladder of infrastructural development. But if the well breaks, how is the well building process a marker of development or truly sustainable?

Erin Kraft is the Program Coordinator of New Global Citizens International (NGCI) that partners with Sustainable Resources Ltd. (SRL) on the Malawi Well Repair Project (MWRP). MWRP services wells that have been abandoned and are unusable in Malawi, Africa. MWRP is one of the few programs of its kind that works to fix water wells that are faulty or defective in Malawian villages.

In a telephone interview, Kraft told WaterWideWeb, “Well-intentioned organizations go into countries in Africa and build wells. Some of these wells costs up to $30,000.00, but after they break, they are unusable and the money invested in the project is wasted”.

When water wells break, a typical solution is to build another well in place of the broken one. Dr. Jan Snyder is an Engineering Educator, President of Sustainable Resources Ltd and cofounding member of MWRP. In a telephone interview, Snyder told WaterWideWeb, “In Malawi, I would bet that there are over 10,000 wells that aren’t serviced.”

The population of Malawi is approximately 14 million people. Ninety-five percent of the population lives in the bush. Each well provides roughly 200 to 300 villagers with clean water. If over 10,000 wells aren’t serviced, that means 2 to 3 million people are without clean water as a result of broken water wells.

Snyder found that replacing the donut shaped rubber part that rubs against the pipe casing to create water flow is the simple yet overlooked solution to broken wells. Snyder’s solution only costs $5.00 USD per well. He plans to take his technology on the road with the MWRP.

The framework of the MWRP is based upon the participation of local community members. MWRP will train local community residents in well maintenance and repair. After receiving the proper training, those individuals will then launch small businesses and offer to service broken wells in nearby villages.

The end result of MWRP is capacity building through local entrepreneurship. The ability to supply water for rural communities then lies within the community itself. Citizens are empowered economically through small business entrepreneurship and are trained in a skill set that can be shared with other groups.

The MWRP presents a novel, low cost solution to rectify a developmental effort that was rendered unsuccessful. MWRP offers a remedial response to an underlying problem that hinders the progress of vulnerable communities.

When asked if there was a standard for well building, Snyder replied, “I don’t know of any guidelines of well building or maintenance in Malawi or other parts of Africa.” In Malawi and other developing countries, guidelines for digging wells and maintaining them properly aren’t established, or if they are, they are not adhered to.

“After three to five years, the rubber pieces in the water well wear out”, Snyder explained. Essentially, water wells need to be maintained regularly to ensure that all the parts function properly. Standards for building wells and regulations on maintenance and water quality must be instituted to achieve the ultimate goal of water well projects, which is to provide a sustainable water source to vulnerable communities.

Water-borne disease are a leading killer in developing nations and women and girls are forced to travel long distances in search of clean water if their well no long functions properly. Poverty, public health and economic growth are fundamentally linked to clean water.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations are organized to eradicate extreme poverty, improve maternal health, combat disease, and promote gender equality of women and girls. The aforementioned goals are directly linked to water access.

Digging new wells should no longer be a viable option if a well that requires repairs could supply water. The amount of resources in time, materials, and financial support are wasted when new water well building takes precedence over rehabilitating pre-existing wells.

Opting to build a new well diverts funds that could be used for advancement in economics, public health, and responsible use of resources. Development happens at the local level if infrastructure improves after the initial relief effort was implemented.

When communities can safely rely on existing water wells that can be repaired and maintained locally,  reliance on external relief will be less commonplace and development that is indeed sustainable will become a reality.

Please watch this video of well repair work in Malawi by Sustainable Resources Ltd: Nntchisi Well Repair in Malawi

Your Comments

7 Comments so far

  1. New Global Citizens connects youth across the United States to amazing projects such as Malawi Well Repair. In partnership with sustainably-minded international development organizations, our projects are community-led and where small amounts of funds CAN make a tremendous positive impact in communities across the globe.

  2. Roger Pholo says:

    I am a journalist a weekly INFO-ENVIRONNEMENT in D.R.Congo , a human rights defender and activist , a farmer and a community leader and organiser , a founder of a recognised and registred ngo working to give voice to farmers in remount rural areas , i agreed with the author of the article but would require the attention of all that funding such projects that they have a big work to do with rural poor communities so they can’t be discouraged because we need their help.In my community the water problem is very crucial so we are looking up till now for partners who can help us solve the problems if you are one of them do not hesitate to contacts us.Roger Pholo president of ASSOCIATION POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT RURAL INTEGRE DE NGANDA-TSUNDI(INTEGRATED RURAL DEVELOPMENT OF NGANDA-TSUNDI) P.O.BOX.3659 KINSHASA-GOMNBE 00243-998218472.

  3. Eryn-Ashlei Bailey says:


    Thank you so much for commenting! I would like to hear more about your journalism work with Info-Environment. Can you send that over? I would also like to hear more about your work in the local community of D.R. Congo.

    I would like to reiterate that funding water projects is immensely important. I strongly believe in maintenance of them as well.

    Would you like to talk to WaterWideWeb about the water problems where you work? We would love to discuss this more with you.


    Eryn-Ashlei Bailey
    [email protected]

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