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Guest contributor Arjen van der Wal is an environmentalist and drilling expert at Practica Foundation, an Akvo support partner. Here he describes the opportunities possible when people are trained to drill wells.

Say you want to extract water from the ground, because you have had enough of carrying water around for six hours a day, and have more useful things to do with your time. And say you live in a region where the ground water is of good quality, and the soil consists of sand or clay. Then you might want to have a borehole, preferably near your house, where you can get nice, clean, safe water, without walking too far. What are your options?

Above: Manually drilling a borehole with the sludging technique

Up to now, drilling boreholes involved large and expensive machines, which get the job done quickly and efficiently. Machine drilled wells are very high in quality, but also very expensive. The cost of a machine drilled well varies between countries and will generally be in the range of $5,000 to $15,000 for a 30-meter deep well. Unfortunately, this is so expensive that it is unreachable for almost all poor communities, and needs large subsidies to get done at all. And if large subsidies are needed, it does not scale. But a silent revolution to change all this is underway, and it is called manual drilling.

Manual drilling

Manual drilling does away with big trucks with expensive machinary, and depends entirely on hand-powered equipment and lots of skill. If you don’t have money, you have to be smart! Costs of 30-metre deep wells vary from about $100 to $2,500, depending on geology, country and application (small scale irrigation wells or high quality community wells for potable water). See here and here for earlier blogs on the subject.

Manual drilling itself already exists for hundreds of years, but use by larger organisations has been limited, as the quality of the wells was often questioned. This is now rapidly changing, with large organisations such as Unicef embracing manual drilling as part of their technology portfolio. In the field of water supply, this is no less than revolutionary.

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Manual drilling with the Percussion technique

Training, training, training

The most important thing to get manual drilling of the ground in a professional way in a region is training. In a joint effort, the Dutch PRACTICA Foundation, UNICEF, and US-based Enterprise Works/Vita have developed a toolkit for African countries wishing to embark on the professionalisation of manual drilling. This toolkit includes technical notes, technical manuals, advocacy materials, mapping of suitable areas for manual drilling, case studies, and implementation and training manuals. The works. With this material, the local private sector can take up manual drilling, so they can respond to the ever-increasing demand for safe water in rural areas.

Our experience at PRACTICA has been that with the right training of manual drilling teams, wells of good quality can be drilled. In Chad for example, UNICEF and PRACTICA are training 43 manual drilling enterprises, quality controllers and pump repairman, ultimately producing over 500 wells for rural communities (you can find a case study on this initiative on our website).

Read and see more

A lot of supporting material is and will come available in the next few months, supporting this initiative. You can read the 5 technical notes, or you can watch the 12 minute film “Professionalizing the manual drilling sector in Africa”. You can also visit the PRACTICA website in July 2010, when we expect to publish Technical manuals on the manual drilling techniques: Jetting, Augering, Sludging and Manual Percussion and an update of the manual: “Understanding Groundwater & Wells in manual drilling”. Explore and make this revolution happen!

Author: Arjen van der Wal, Practica Foundation. Practica Foundation is a partner of Akvo – you can view Practica projects online here. For more low-cost water and sanitation solutions, please visit Akvopedia.