First Person

Six ways to fix up a well and get clean water

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A woman operates a bore hole water pump, which the women of the Fala village Saving for Change group helped repair by contributing money its members had saved, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. (Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America)

This post was originally published August 20, 2013, and was updated in October 2018.

Oxfam helps communities around the world fix up their wells and learn how to treat their drinking water to avoid water-borne diseases. It’s particularly important during times when people are short on food, due to bad harvests following drought, floods, or any sort of humanitarian emergency. This was the case in Senegal in 2011 and 2012, when Oxfam’s program helped farmers recover from a drought and bad harvest in 2011. Oxfam delivered some cash to help farmers buy food, but we also helped them to address water and sanitation and hygiene, all closely linked to malnutrition — because if you have a stomach ailment from drinking bad water, you won’t benefit from the nutrition derived from what food you can find.

1: Protect the top

This hand dug well offers little protection from surface water run-off and contamination. Photo by Kenny Rae/Oxfam America. Build a wall around the top of the well, with a reinforced concrete drainage apron around it. This will prevent surface water running into the well; particularly important where there are animal droppings around.

2: Reduce turbidity

A well near Ayetoro-Ijesa village, Nigeria. Photo by George Osodi/Panos.

If a well is serving up cloudy, muddy water, it may have too much silt at the bottom. Send an intrepid digger down there with a shovel to dig out the silt and debris, then put a layer of gravel at the bottom of the well. The gravel will keep the silt down, and when someone drops a bucket on a rope down to the bottom of the well it will be less likely to scoop up silt as well as water.

3: Disinfect

Local health promoters maintained and replenished the chlorine solution in the dispensers. They also trained people how to use the dispensers and promoted good hygiene. Jean Bassette / Oxfam America

Scrub down the sides of the well with a chlorine solution to kill microbes that can make people sick. Disinfect the well water by temporarily adding a strong chlorine solution (removed before the well goes back into operation).

4: Cover it

Staff from Oxfam’s partner FODDE in Kolda, Senegal, looking at a well in need of rehabilitation. Photo by Holly Pickett/Oxfam America

Install a reinforced concrete cover over the top of the well to keep anything from falling in and polluting the water.

5: Install a pump

Village residents fetch water from a communal pump in Faloumbou, Senegal. (Photo: Rebecca Blackwell)

This will make it easier to draw water, if a community can afford to maintain a pump (not always the case—pumps break down and take money, time, and spare parts to repair). Oxfam is introducing a variety of pumps, including locally manufactured and easily maintained rope pumps.  A pump piping water up from the bottom of the well takes away the possibility of infecting water with a dirty bucket or rope.

6: Treat the water

Treating water with bleach in the village of Yongoya in eastern Senegal. Photo by Holly Pickett/Oxfam America.

In eastern Senegal, Oxfam distributed hygiene kits that included bleach – just a capful in a 10-liter container will kill bugs that make people sick.  In the southern region near Kolda, Oxfam also installed special dispensers near the wells that dole out a pre-measured portion of a chlorine solution that will safely treat a container of well water. Oxfam works with communities to solve drinking water problems in emergencies because water-borne diseases can be devastating especially for malnourished children. But we also work on water and sanitation and irrigation in our long-term programs.

This post was originally published August 20, 2013, and was updated in October 2018.

Clean water can mean the difference between health and sickness, or even life and death. Help provide a community with buckets, chlorine dispensers, and other essentials.  Donate now

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