No More Dirty Water, Please!

So many of the communities we are helping these days are drinking from unprotected, shallow, hand dug wells.  When people are desperate, they often resort to extreme measures.   These unprotected wells are that.  Basically, the community can detect the general location of some underground water based on termite mounds and anthills.  Then they dig down until they reach some water.  But this water is not clean.  It’s not the water table.  It’s naturally occurring water, just below the surface.  Then they dig a hole and people drink from there.  But these muddy water holes are infested with all kinds of visible things…. worms, tadpoles, bugs.

So the villagers use different methods of drinking from there.  One is you wait until the hottest part of the day, when the sun is most extreme.  That’s when the “swimming things” will go down deeper, where it is darker and cooler.  Then you get your water from the surface.  It’s still disgusting, but at least there is not an aquarium in your container.   The villagers generally use most of the water each day from these holes, but it is continually replenished by new water that drips out from rocks.   In cases where these holes are the only water source for a large area, the water from them can get consumed early.  So the villagers have to fetch their water as early as possible.  Sometimes women get up as early as 4AM to get their water for the day.  In these situations the worms and tadpoles are still visible, swimming at the surface.  So the women have to take that water home and strain it through a cloth, so that it catches all of those things and they do not drink them.  When I ask people about this, they say that they get stomach problems and diarrhea all the time, but it’s just part of life and they just have to get used to it.

One little girl told me a story about her 5-year-old sister getting severely ill.  She needed a doctor. She said she began to investigate what all the little girl had consumed, since she knew the doctor would need that information.  The 5-year-old told her teen sister that she had gotten water from a rain puddle, by the road, and put it into a water bottle.   When the teen looked, there was still some water in the bottle and there were definitely things swimming in there.  The little girl was so sick and she almost died.   Stories like that around here are common.  That’s one reason the Safe Water and Hygiene training is so important.   It is also why education is so important.  This teen girl was in school and used logic to deal with the problem.  But the majority of the people in these rural communities are illiterate and it is sometimes challenging to teach them new things.

World water day is coming up this week.  We were originally planning to participate in the massive celebrations in Gulu, Uganda.  But since I am in Kajo Keji, Sudan still, our Ugandan team is going to participate in the Uganda celebrations and I will be organizing some small rural festivities for Sudan.  We are handing out DITB World Water Day t-shirts, Clean Water Saves Lives silicone wristbands and boxes of soap to promote hand washing.   It feels more appropriate for me to be in the villages on Water Day instead of in Gulu town anyway.  To me this is what it is all about.  These are the people we are trying to reach.

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I also learn that some other group has funded a well for Bori Church, which is very close to the primary school which we were schedule to drill next.   So now there is water very close to the school, and no need for us to drill there.   I need to mobilize another school to slip into that slot in our schedule.   You have to mobilize these communities right before you are set to drill.  If there is too much time between the MOU signing and the arrival of the crews, the villagers get discouraged and lose their momentum.   You need to get them excited, gathering materials, organizing committees, planning for crew meals and just generally ready for construction.   It’s important to keep them engaged in the project throughout.   I don’t mind switching schools since this just means that more people are getting water.  But it does take a little more time than I planned.

The next school on our list in this county is Kendiri Primary School.   These people have been drinking from shallow wells and the stream.  The problem is also that many of the shallow wells and streams have been drying up in the past few years.  I spoke to one girl who told me that her family of six only uses 4 jerry cans of water each day for the entire family.  That means that each person is using less than one jug of water each day, for everything.   This is about the average around here.

After we finish signing the agreement and are about to leave, I see a man rushing through the field toward us.   He motions for us to wait and when get gets up, he’s totally out of breath.  He’s the head teacher for Mangalatore Primary School, in a nearby village.   His community is in serious need of water too and he heard that we were in the area.  I know about his school.   Another group tried to drill there recently but they failed to reach water.   I feel bad telling the head teacher that we can’t help them right now.   I know they are in a difficult area for getting water and think maybe rainwater harvesting might be a good option for them.  I offer to investigate the situation.  There is also Kinyiba Primary School where we are considering building a rainwater-harvesting tank.  I’m thinking maybe we can bring our Ugandan crew that built the enormous rainwater tank in Mt. Elgon to Kajo Keji to assess the situation there.

Before leaving Kajo Keji, we have to meet with a new driller.   I am meeting two new drillers in Sudan on this trip.  One of them works in Magwi County and we are going there next.   The other is here in Kajo Keji.  Right now, we have four drilling teams in Uganda and only one in Sudan.  Our projects are spread out all over the region, so it’s good to have drillers in the different parts.  But we need more options for Sudan.  I received a quote from this team a while back and they are very expensive.   They are asking for $10,000 per well, unless we do 10 at a time.  Then they will go down to $8000.   This is WAY more that we can ever pay but it’s good to meet with them face to face.  The meeting goes well.  I’m pretty sure that with time they will come down to our price.  These things sometimes just take patience and persistence.  I told him we would keep talking.   I’m certain I can negotiate with this guy.

We buy some pineapples and cabbage from a local market to take to Prossy to prepare for us.  Beans and posho are becoming incredibly mundane.

It’s starting to rain a bit, which is very exciting.  They seriously need rain around here.  This is such a nice gift to receive on World Water Day!!


Author: Stacey Travis

Founder and Executive Director of Drop in the Bucket a water charity building water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.

One thought on “No More Dirty Water, Please!”

  1. The water there is full of bacteria that causes diseases and other bad things. It is sad what all they have to go through just to get water. They walk for miles just to get dirty water filled with bacteria it is really sad. Great article way to get the information out

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