By Kevin McFarland

Despite nearly two decades of intense focus, much of the developing world lacks access to safe water supplies. The impact of this reality, both economically and in terms of health, is devastating. Among World Health Organization (WHO) statistics:

  • Fully 50 percent of all men, women and children worldwide lack reasonable access to uncontaminated water supplies, less than 30 percent in rural areas.
  • Eighty percent of all disease in the world can be traced to drinking and washing with unsafe water supplies.
  • In many communities, less than 50 percent of children live beyond age five, primarily due to waterborne and water related illnesses.

Manna International is an international relief and development organization working in partnership with communities in least developed nations since 1983. It provides a variety of assistance programs including disaster relief, refugee assistance, water supply development, agricultural development, small enterprise development, and medical and educational assistance to some of the poorest nations on earth. One area with the highest priority is the provision of reasonable access to uncontaminated drinking water supplies. Past projects have included drilling boreholes and developing rainwater catchment systems and spring protection systems in Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana, Haiti, The Dominican Republic and Kenya. Here, we focus on Kenya.

Africa: The need
Estimates vary concerning safe water availability in Kenya, but it’s widely believed that fewer than 30 percent of the population has reasonable access to clean water. In many regions, less than 15 percent of the rural population has access to clean water. The economic and health impacts of this are readily visible.

As in many arid regions, it’s not uncommon to see women walk several hours each day to obtain water for their families. Often, the water they obtain at such great cost isn’t even safe to drink. In other areas where surface water is more readily available, the amount of time and distance to the supplies is greatly reduced, but often these surface sources are highly contaminated. Over the past three years in Kenya and other African nations to the south such as Mozambique and Madagascar, there have been serious outbreaks of cholera and other life-threatening diseases contracted from unsafe water supplies.

An initial survey conducted by Manna in the village of Kosege in the Migori district of Western Kenya has reported that the dry season has forced villagers to dig huge holes in a nearby dry streambed. All day and night the villagers are digging in search of water. The field director had accompanied a group of villagers to the streambed at about 6 p.m., who had come then to avoid long lines during the day. They dug deeper in the bed and waited until 11 p.m. for enough water to seep into the hole to fill their handful of buckets.

Village wells in Kenya
Vast ground water resources are readily available as reliable water supplies throughout most of Kenya. In most regions, groundwater can be accessed at a depth of 100-to-300 feet through consolidated rock formations, making it available for technologically appropriate development. This spring, Manna is launching a village level water supply program to supply boreholes for communities in the Migori, Kisumu and Transmara regions. The pilot phase of the program will supply safe water to approximately 50,000 people with a subsequent phase targeting over a million people.

To do this, wells will be drilled utilizing a Schramm T-64 equipped with high pressure air and air hammer. This machinery will enable drillers to drill quickly and efficiently through the semi-consolidated and consolidated materials. This rig will drill efficiently through sand and gravel as well as hard rock. The wells will be cased to the bottom with 6-inch PVC casing.

The water project will be in cooperation with the Ministry of Water Resources of Kenya. In compliance with ministry policy, once an initial hydrogeological survey is done on a prospective site, a drilling permit is issued. Upon completion, wells are subject to a 24-hour test pump period to determine flow and water quality. Once these criteria have been met, the well is developed for community use.

Hand pump technology
Because of the relatively shallow availability of groundwater, most communities in the program will be able to access water with Village Level Operation and Management of Maintenance (VLOM) hand pumps. VLOM signifies that the pumping technology is in use at this particular site. The program will be utilizing the AfriDev pump—designed and produced in Kenya. Use of this pump will ensure a consistent supply of replacement parts, and all of its main wearing parts are easy to reach, inspect and replace. These hand pumps provide the best solution to water access needs of local villages due to the low level of technology, ability to train villagers in preventative maintenance and repair and cost of usage.

Active participation: mandatory
One of the most critical factors in establishing a sustainable water supply system is broad-based community participation. Throughout the developing world there are countless examples of water supply systems that were installed but failed to function over time. The most common reason for these failures is a lack of involvement of the local community in the design, implementation, operation and maintenance of the water supply system.

Broad-based community involvement in every phase of the project is critical for the following reasons: To ensure sustainability through effective operation and maintenance of the system; to enhance a sense of ownership and responsibility for the system; to maximize health benefits; and to build community confidence to enable future community development endeavors.

In the pilot phase of the program, communities will be involved in the initial survey and site selection. They’ll be responsible for organizing the entire community to provide labor and financial support for different phases of the project. Since many of these villages are remote they’ll be responsible for building and clearing roads to the site. This work is done by hand and provides a rallying point for community involvement. The communities also provide all sand, gravel, and cement for the project. Finally, they provide for the cost of the hand-pump and all costs for future preventative maintenance and repair of the pump. Hand pump technicians will be trained in each village to carry out preventative maintenance to enhance the useful life of the pump. They’ll be trained to do weekly, monthly and annual inspections and maintenance. They’ll keep records of all maintenance and repairs. This will help insure a sense of ownership in the community and sustainability of the project. In partnership with the community, Manna provides the machinery, well casing, drilling costs and pump testing for the project.

Health education
Vital to the long-term health benefits of this project is an effective health education program. Follow-up programs designed to help villagers understand the causes of water-related diseases will be conducted in each community. Villagers will be taught how to protect their wells from contamination. They’ll be trained to keep the well head and surrounding area free of debris and to keep livestock from congregating close to the well. They’ll receive instruction concerning the safest ways to draw, transport and utilize water from the supply. They’ll be trained in the administration of oral rehydration therapy. This health education component is vital to ensuring the new water supply has the maximum health benefit possible for the community.

The need for uncontaminated water supplies in rural Kenya is acute. The economic cost in terms of hours spent finding, securing and transporting water from distant supplies in the dry season is staggering. But far greater than this is the devastating impact on the health of families utilizing water every day that’s unsafe for their consumption. One high ranking water official in the Kenyan government recently characterized the securing safe water supplies as the most critical issue facing the people of the country.

Despite these challenges, there are sufficient groundwater resources at reasonable depths throughout most of the country. The pilot phase of the Village Level Water Supply Program is designed to help communities access this resource. This program is being conducted as a partnership with local communities by relying on their involvement in the planning, implementation and long term maintenance of the systems. With a little help and by working together, local communities can strive to provide clean, safe water for themselves in the long run.

The author would like to thank Manna International’s Lisa Dunn for her assistance on the above article. She can be reached at [email protected]

About the author
Kevin McFarland is president of Manna International Relief and Development Corporation, of Redwood City, Calif. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian University and has done graduate work at Texas Tech University and Stanford University. He can be reached at (800) 253-2420, (650) 365-4504 (fax) or online:


Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean between Somalia and Tanzania

Area: Slightly more than twice the size of Nevada

Population: 28,808,658 (July 1999 est.)

Age structure:
0-to-14 years: 43% (male 6,244,321; female 6,104,181)
15-to-64 years: 54% (male 7,845,083; female 7,826,442)
65 years and over: 3% (male 343,449; female 445,182)

Languages: English (official), Swahili (official), numerous indigenous languages

Literacy:* Total population: 78.1%
Male: 86.3%
Female: 70% (1995 est.)

Government type: Republic

Capital: Nairobi

Climate: Varies from tropical along coast to arid in interior

Terrain: Low plains rise to central highlands bisected by Great Rift Valley; fertile plateau in west

Irrigated land: 660 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: Recurring drought in northern and eastern regions; flooding during rainy seasons

Environment: Current issues—water pollution from urban and industrial wastes; degradation of water quality from increased use of pesticides and fertilizers; deforestation; soil erosion; desertification, and poaching

Economy: Since 1993, the government of Kenya has implemented a program of economic liberalization and reform. Steps have included the removal of import licensing and price controls, removal of foreign exchange controls, fiscal and monetary restraint, and reduction of the public sector through privatizing publicly owned companies and downsizing the civil service. With the support of the World Bank, IMF, and other donors, these reforms have led to a turnaround in economic performance following a period of negative growth in the early 1990s; Kenya’s real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 5 percent in 1995 and 4 percent in 1996, with inflation remaining under control. Growth slowed in 1997-98; political violence damaged the tourist industry, and the IMF allowed Kenya’s Enhanced Structural Adjustment Program to lapse due to the government’s failure to enact reform conditions and to adequately address public sector corruption. Long-term barriers to development include electricity shortages, the government’s continued and inefficient dominance of key sectors, endemic corruption, and the country’s high population growth rate.

* Age 15 and over who can read and write.


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