Digging Wells in Africa:
How it Works

Just one way The Water Project provides access to safe water

Finished WellIt's hard to believe that more often than not, the clean water a developing community desperately needs is right underneath them. And it's amazing how a relativly small investment to get to it can make such a dramatic difference in so many lives. That's why we fund these well projects.

Below, you'll find information on the types of wells that can be built and a brief decription of the process.

For an in-depth look at our process, and how we work, read more about The Water Project Process here.

One size does not fit all
Finished Well

We get asked a lot about the cost to dig a well in Africa. It's difficult to answer though, as Africa is a continent with wildly diverse geology, culture, and climate. The best type of water project for a specific community or region varies widely too.

There are lots of ways to drill wells, various kinds of pumps, and even newer solar powered solutions. One size simply doesn't fit all. Let's take a look at some common projects to learn more about the challenges and costs involved.

Hand Dug and Often Dangerous

Hand Dug WellThe simplest wells have traditionally been hand dug. That's right...by hand. They can be fifty or more feet deep and are used when ground water is generally abundant. These wells are extremely dangerous to build and have cost many lives of unskilled laborers. They are also often left uncovered and easily contaminated. They aren't always an ideal solution, but when properly dug they can be made more effective with a good pump, tight concrete sealing pad, and regular maintinance.

We work to ensure our partners have the right tools for the job when repairing or upgrading a dug well. We want the work to be done safely for both the workers and the people who will benefit from the new source of water. And it has to be reliable.

Our teams have pioneered new techniques to convert older hand dug wells to more reliable boreholes. This process is much safer and often transforms a seasonal well into a year-round water source by accessing deeper aquifers.

Shallow Borehole Wells - Lower Cost, Clean Water

Shallow Well RigWe've been working with local teams for years, helping develop proper drilling technique, consistent supply chain, and safe water practices to ensure that our shallow-rig water projects are installed with excellence.

Well Pump InstallationGenerally, shallow depth drill rigs can reach about 150-200 feet deep. These rigs can be very cost effective and in some regions do a good job. They can be moved with ease and allow work to happen quickly.

As these machines drill through dirt and sand, casing is installed to keep the hole from collapsing. Then a concrete base is formed around the small casing (a few feet in diameter) and is left to set up overnight.

Once the concrete pad is dry, the pump mechanism is carefully lowered into the hole and a hand pump is attached. The team makes note of how much water flows and ensures it is safe to drink.

Serving large communities with clean, safe water

Large Drill RigIn Central Kenya, just one example of how different geography can dramatically change the game, some wells must be over 900 feet deep. This introduces all kinds of challenge and expense.

First, a much larger drill rig, truck and crew are needed to actually drill the hole. It can take many days.

Deep Well Pump HouseThen, because the water is so deep, a motorized pump must be installed. The water is simply too heavy to lift from that depth with a hand pump. Diesel or solar generators, electric pumps, piping, storage tanks and housing for it all can drive the cost up to $40,000 or more. But, since these very large systems serve so many people, they are still quite cost effective.

We only partner with established deep borehole drillers with a lot of experience for these complicated projects.


Solar well tankSolar well tankIn all cases, we work to ensure that the local community is actually invested in the project. One of the best ways we've seen that happen is to require the villages to arrange and pay for the initial geological survey work to be done or to collect locally available materials during construction. That usually costs a few hundred US dollars and requires the community to mobilize and organize around the project. The labor they provide is worth even more, often worth thousands. In the long run, this initial commitment to the project means it will be valued and cared for by the community. It's can prove an essential step.

After a well is installed, the drill team will explain how the pump works, how to keep the area clean, and who to call if it breaks. We make sure each community is able to contact our partners whenever maintenance is needed. A simple repair can become costly if unskilled folks try to fix it alone.


Appropriate water projects, not just wells.

Sometimes a well isn't the best choice. We work hard to make sure that a community's needs are always considered first. Local experts in the field help ensure that happens. With your support, we are able to provide support and expertise for various water solutions. We listen for our local teams's lead in choosing the right type of water project for a particular community or school. Far too often, "default" technologies like a handpump are being installed because of misguided assumptions, only to end up rejected or abandoned by a community. We've learned that a water project must be reliable, convenient and safe and that requires careful consideration alongside each community.

$50 can provide one person with clean, safe water

Your gift provides technical assistance and supplies (rebar, concrete, forms, fuel, drilling supplies etc.) so that communities can afford to build a well or other appropriate water project. You make it possible for them to help themselves.