The Beauty of a Hand-Dug Well in Uganda
Hand-dug wells address one of the major public health challenges facing returning populations: securing clean, reliable sources of water. The traditional water sources that hand-dug wells replace are often little more than murky, groundwater-fed pools of water that are uncovered and therefore exposed to contamination from human and animal waste and parasites.
The hand-dug well appears superficially crude - before it is lined with concrete bricks and capped with a concrete plate, a hand-dug well is little more than a hole in the ground. But the hand-dug well is remarkable in a number of ways. The cost of a hand-dug well is about one-fourth of the cost of a machine-drilled borehole. Having few moving parts, a hand-dug well requires little maintenance and can remain in working order for decades. They can match the output of machine-drilled boreholes, delivering in some cases up to 950 liters (or 250 gallons) of water per hour.
"Perhaps most importantly, these wells are dug for the community, by the community," said the IRC's environmental health officer Emuge Jesse. "We provide the materials, but the hard work comes from the people."
In the northern district of Kitgum, where the IRC has served the needs of internally displaced people since 1998, IRC environmental health teams help constructing ten hand-dug wells which will meet the water needs of over 5,000 people. The project is funded by the Office of U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and United Kingdom's Cranfield University.
Bringing water to Lemogweng Ajut
It is the dry season in northern Uganda and nowhere is that more apparent than Lemogweng Ajut, a small village eight dusty kilometres (five miles) outside of Kitgum town. The high grass is brittle and brown, the sky is cloudless and at its afternoon peak, the temperature pushes past 32 degrees Celsius. The only thing falling from the sky is ash from brush fires.
Like two million others in northern Uganda, the people of this village were forced to flee their homes by the Lord's Resistance Army, the rebel group which has been waging a war with the government. For over a year now there has been relative peace. Having lived in camps for over a decade, they are desperate to return to their villages. And so the hot, harsh conditions didn't stop Nokrach Caesar and twelve others from the village from jumping on the opportunity to construct a hand-dug well.
As it turns out, the driest times are the best to look for water underground.
"If we see that this well can support the population even now, when the water table is low, then we know for sure that it will be full during the rest of the year," said Emuge Jesse.
The men from the village dig in turns through hard, dry earth for days until, in early December, they finally reach a layer of moist, lumpy clay. They know that the water is near when bees, attracted by the cool, moist ground, swarm at the bottom of the hole.
"We will get there soon," said Caesar.
Caesar expects the completion of the well to beckon others to leave the camps and begin rebuilding their homes.
"People need reasons to leave the camps, where they now have water, food, and shelter. Digging this well, we are giving them a good reason to come home," he said.