This month, GroundwaterGo will be publishing a blog series on groundwater and Africa as part of the Children in Crisis fundraiser that we will be joining in Washington Square Park, NYC on July 14.
The groundwater potential of Africa is huge. A report issued earlier this year by the British Geological Survey found that the continent of Africa literally sits on a sea of groundwater. There is 20 times more water stored in African aquifers than in its lakes and ponds.
Yet, these groundwater resources often seem out of reach to poor communities. Many people, especially women and children, devote hours each day to fetching water. The burden is so great that it keeps children out of school. Furthermore, the water that these communities do have access to is often unsanitary.
The answer seems simple: drill more wells. But experts from wealthy nations often fail spectacularly when they try to address this problem. In a 2011 post, I discussed some of the missteps of groundwater philanthropies in developing nations:
“From an engineering perspective, the construction of drinking water wells and basic sanitation is elementary. But water-supply projects built by non-profit organizations in developing nations face a high failure rate due to complex social and economic forces that such charities often ignore.
Ned Breslin, chief executive of the nonprofit Water For People, is critical of many past water supply development projects. During the twenty years that he spent in development in Africa before joining Water For People, Breslin saw drinking water pumps installed only to go to waste due to break-down, neglect, or mismanagement.1
Marla Smith-Nilson, founder of Water 1st International, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that many problems can arise for water or sanitation project, including “failure to train people with the plumbing skills needed to fix water systems if they break, trouble collecting fees to maintain the water source, and difficulty finding spare parts for pumps or wells.”2
Wells are often installed without the involvement or even the support of the local community. In sparsely populated areas, it is often too difficult and too expensive for communities to find and hire technical expertise to repair broken wells.3 Even if the communities have the skill to repair the well, they may not be able to pay for new materials needed to repair their water supply project.4
As you can see, Africa needs real solutions that empower African people with the skills needed to drill and maintain wells. Donors and philanthropies need to take a hard look at their practices to ensure that they are engaging in actual solutions and that they are listening to the true needs of individuals in served communities.
In this July 2012 blog series, I’ll be discussing success stories and new innovations that will grant Africa access to its groundwater potential.
(Cross posted from GroundwaterGo.com)
1. Preston, Caroline. (2010). A Water Charity Spills Its Secrets, and Donors Open Their Wallets. Chronicle of Philanthropy, 23.3: 15.
2. Lewis, Nicole. (2007). Charity Hopes to Put an End to Villages’ Water Woes – Philanthropy.com. Chronicle of Philanthropy, 20.1: 5.
3.International Institute for Environment and Development. (2009). Briefing: Where every drop counts: tackling rural Africa’s water crisis. London, UK.
4. Breslin, E.D. (2010). Rethinking Hydro-Philanthropy: Smart Money for Transformative Impact. Water For People.