Clean Water

This is part one of a two-part entry recapping a long weekend I spent in Awassa, Ethiopia with Selam Awassa Business Group. Part two will be due in a few days. Happy New Year everyone, and many blessings and good health in 2009!

Monday morning I joined Yared Sisay, who heads the Selam Awassa Water Drilling Works and Sanitation project, to visit well drilling sites outside of Awassa, past the small town of Tula. As we bumped along the rocky road in the Toyota work truck it was evident that many of the people we passed – most herding goats or cattle, or fetching water – recognized Yared. Predictably, Yared and his crew are much loved by the community members, as they provide clean water – a life giver.

After traversing a few open fields, and winding down roads in desperate need of the fresh blade of a bulldozer or motor-grader, we reached the first of two drilling sites the crew was working that day. On the way, we stopped by a small well that had just been completed but that was waiting on a pump to be installed. It was remarkable to compare the new water source – clean, deep, and filtered – with the old – a contaminated hand dug well.

As the day progressed, I would see even worse sources of water including stagnant ponds and old rain-water catchments. All of them were full of murky, detestable water. It’s hard to believe anyone could survive on this water, especially young children. Unfortunately, many do not survive but succumb to diarrhea and other water borne diseases. Some believe diarrhea to be the top killer among children in Africa.

Back to the drilling site. Including four members of the drilling crew, there were roughly 15-20 people gathered around the drilling site – most of them men taking turns at the manual drilling. Interestingly enough it was men helping drill the wells but women and children are usually the ones burdened with the laborsome task of fetching the daily water. Often, they carry jerry cans, on their heads or over the shoulders, for miles to retrieve water in town. Other times, they resort to retrieving water from local, but contaminated sources such as the ponds and rain water catchments mentioned previously.

Most wells in this area range from 20-30 meters deep and take 3-5 days to drill, depending on the soil. The design of the drill is interesting. It is specially designed to be operated manually – in a ‘heave/ ho’ type fashion (check the pictures on the link at the right, ‘Lamp Post Photos,’ for clarification). Therefore, besides the first six meters of the drill bit, which is steel, the rest is PVC pipe. This makes the drill stem light enough to enable manual drilling up to 30 meters, even as the stem fills up with water.

Yared and company work through kebelle (similar to small community mayors) leaders to gain support for placing wells in a certain kebelle. Also, without the support of the kebelle leaders, the necessary manual labor would likely not be provided by the community. Obviously, the kebelle leaders are critical players in this process. As Yared explained,

                “Without the support of kebelle leaders, we would have a very hard time. Some of the people would just say, ‘You want to dig a well? Go ahead but I’m not providing any labor and could care less what you do’.”

On the face of I, this may sound both absurd and astonishing, but it is due mainly to a lack of education about water-borne diseases.

After observing the drilling for a bit and asking some questions, I finally got in on the action and joined the men who were operating the drill or, ‘heave/ hoeing.’ The physical activity was invigorating, it does a mind and body good to work-up a sweat and I don’t get to as often as I’d like, but I imagine it’s also exhausting work days on end, out in the field.

The thing I appreciated most on this site visit was the character of Yared, Berhanu and the rest of the drilling team. They work a hard six days per week, often without breaking for lunch because if they did the well would collapse. When they’re in the field, which is nearly constantly, they stay at the local hotel and I can assure you it’s not exactly the Taj. These men are lean and fit from hard work and are more than capable in their trade. Their focus is on finishing one well and then moving on to the next, that’s all. Along the way they are saving innumerable lives and greatly enhancing the standard of living in the rural community by providing local sources of clean water. 


Awassa, Ethiopia

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