Hand dug wells


By John La Roche

Water from the ground 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 May issue protection of spring sources in the Rukungiri region of Uganda was discussed. Hand dug wells are another source of water being developed in the Kabarole district of Uganda.

Uganda, a country which suffered in the 1970's and early 1980's under the repressive regimes of Amin and Obote 2, has a new optimism and determination to forget this difficult past. The Kabarole district of Western Uganda is within the great African rift valley which runs through a chain of lakes from Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda to Sudan and the Red Sea. The Kabarole District is a particularly poor area of Uganda where only 4% of people have access to safe water. Much of the area has been recently resettled after eradication of 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.

Water for Survival has been assisting the programme of hand dug wells in the Kabarole district for the last two years. To April 1995, 105 wells had been completed as part of a programme to construct 450 wells in the region bringing safe and accessible water to 90,0000 people. New Zealand funds have paid for 23 wells and two further wells have just been supported by the pupils of St Margaret's College in Christchurch and the members of Dunedin South Rotary Club. At the present exchange rate, NZ$805 in support funds, doubled by the NZ Government VASS subsidy and doubled again with a UK Government ODA grant will provide the œ1,320 needed to purchase a handpump, cement, reinforcing steel, and provide construction equipment, transport and skilled staff.

As has been found in many developing countries, involving local people to help themselves achieve 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 be able to visit this project in December last 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, UK. 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 - 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 programme, the success rate has improved from 33% to 75%. 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 process is the formation of a Water Committee including women who will be responsible for mobilising the community, planning and managing the unskilled labour for digging the well. Caretakers will be chosen and trained for the management and maintenance of the handpump, 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 programme is conducted at each village and it will be the Caretaker's responsibility to ensure the benefits of the new well are realised by good hygiene.

A handpump user fee of 100 Uganda shillings per month (NZ17 cents) is charged to help pay for the maintenance costs, although it is recognised that 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 cannot 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 utilise 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. The direct action "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.

While at the project I stayed at the construction camp at Mahyoro. A works camp built in traditional style from grass huts at a total cost of 600.00 pounds! As work in this area is almost complete the camp is soon to be handed over to the local community who plan to set up a number of income generating projects such as a grain mill and a pharmacy to sell medicines. Not far from the works camp is the village of Mahyoro on the shore of Lake George. Nile perch are caught from the lake by the villagers and Walude explained how he had tried to get the villagers to stop throwing the offal and algae- laden intestines back into the lake where villagers were drawing water. He was told quite firmly by the villagers that the Fisheries Department had told them it was quite acceptable to do this because the fish from the lake would come in during the night and eat up all the algae laden offal! Walude said he no longer eats fish from the lake!

If you or your group would like to help 250 people by supporting a Kabarole well please contact John La Roche Phone/fax 09-5289-759.



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

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