Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anatomy of a Shallow Well Part 2: Civil Works

Putting finishing touches on the wet concrete of the civil works Civil Works, the concrete structures surrounding a well are what is most distinctive in the appearance of any protected water source. Shallow well or borehole.

This is a continuation of my journaling of 4 days constructing a shallow well, to view the first post click here.

Sealing the concrete slab to the well lining. When we last left off, Foster had just finished constructing the concrete slab which protects the shallow well from surface runoff and contamination if it enters the ground water aquifer. Foster and I arrived on site in Mwambasi and he quickly bounded from the motorcycle to join the rest of the men in lifting the heavy concrete slab out of the ground, and strategically rolling it to position it over the well opening, into freshly laid cement to seal everything in place. I was entertained seeing him bound, as he usually a very soft spoken man, who enjoys deporting himself like a bwana[1], and takes himself very seriously.String outlines where the civil works with be placed

Once the slab is firmly in place, and after a short lunch break of usipa[2], beef, vegetables and nsima Foster, using string and sticks outlines the boundaries of where the concrete apron and washing station will be located. Then bricks are laid for the washing station. Surprisingly this has filled a whole day with work, and we leave a layout and few laid bricks to return and do more tomorrow.

Due to the joy of internet blogging time travel, we can continue on to the next day!

All the bricks for the civil works laid On our return the next morning foster and I found all the brick laying completed, and the civil works beginning to take form. Bricks outline the lip of the apron surrounding the well as well as along the spillway which takes excess water away from the pump. In the picture you can also see the concrete washing sinks taking distinctive shape.

Covering the wash station in concrete, and filling the rest of the civil works with gravel The team then gets to work meticulously covering the surfaces with concrete, and filling the base of the apron and spillway with coarse gravel and concrete. While the concrete is still wet, a wire loop is secured under where the handle will be, to allow it to be locked preventing unauthorized use. Foster placing the pump lock loop This feature on wells is viewed as controversial as it allows the committee managing the upkeep and maintenance to deny people access to the safe water if regular payments are not made to a maintenance fund.

Once all the work of spreading and forming concrete has been completed,  the civil works have finally taken their shape and need to be left to dry before the pump installation can be done. But before all this happens, the date, donor organization and name of the Village Headman are scratched into the surface of the concrete. It gives me pause to wonder when so many organizations struggle to create a sense of ownership over wells in communities the name of the community is not even placed on the well. Instead the name of the donor organization which paid for the installation with no plan for maintenance is permanently etched in concrete, ever a reminder to people they are the object of charitable programs.This reads: Funded by World Vision Malawi, Chikwina/Mpamba ADP, VH (village headman) Kango


[1] Boss in Chitonga

[2] Small fish, the size of sardines

Friday, July 16, 2010

Where in the World is…

Very good question if I do say so myself. Below is the community profile that I have compiled for Engineers Without Borders Canada, and I thought I would share it with you.
AFRICANADA Village Profile: Mpamba, northern Malawi
Driving into Mpamba along the M5 (it's a little busy because this picture was taken on a Market Day) Mpamba Trading Centre falls into Traditional Authority (TA) Timbiri of Nkhata Bay District. It is approximately half way between Nkhata Bay Boma (the district capitol) to the East and Mzuzu, the largest city in the Northern Region to the West. Along the M5 (the highway connecting these two cities) it is the largest population center. The highway is paved, and maintained by the District Assembly (regional government), the other roads around town are packed dirt and maintained by local village heads. With a population of 35,987[1] TA Timbiri is the third largest TA in the district after TA Kabunduli, which covers the largest geographical area, and TA Mkumbira which covers the Boma. The highest proportion of this population is concentrated around Mpamba.
A significant part of the economy of the town is servicing buses traveling along the highway, providing snacks such as bananas, oranges, mandasi (Malawian equivalent of a Tim-Bit) and cold drinks. I traveled into town from Mzuzu on one of these buses. Despite the (relatively) large volume of traffic through the town, the primary source of income for the communities surrounding Mpamba is agriculture. Currently it is the dry season and most people are growing various varieties of cassava and potato. Considering it is the “dry” season it rains rather frequently, about twice a week, usually in the mornings, and has remained rather temperate at other times. Northern Malawi experiences a mild winter where some agriculture is still possible. The rainy season occurs between November and April. The heavy rains cause most dirt roads to wash out limiting access to the more remote villages. Additionally, a number of water points are located in areas that periodically flood during the rainy season, creating a pathway to the aquifer for pathogens and rendering them unsafe. Despite this many communities continue to use them instead of walking the extra distance to a neighbouring water point.
An Elephant Pump near Mpamba Trading Centre There is a significant World Vision presence in the area, one of their offices being only just down the road from my home, across from the Junior School. Additionally shallow wells and boreholes have been installed around the area by the Marion Medical Mission, who also trains area mechanics. Pump Aid is also another significant player in the area and have installed numerous “Elephant Pumps” (pictured left) around the TA. frustration This redundancy (all three organizations have water programs) has led to some areas in and around Mpamba (and the rest of the TA, according to the preliminary results of a survey we've been doing) being left without access to a protected drinking water source, while others are over covered (see photo of 3 wells, all within about 10 meters of each other). Currently World Vision is working on a project to rehabilitate a gravity fed water scheme which supplies water to 13 taps around Mpamba, as of now none of the taps are functional.

[1] According to the Nkhata Bay Water Atlas (September 2009)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Anatomy of a Shallow Well Part 1

Foster having a look at the stand for the pump, and half completed concrete apron Today was a whirlwind of a day. I was sitting at home, reviewing the requirements for my University of Waterloo work-term report when Foster, my counterpart and host-father bursts into the house clad in motorcycle gear and says, “Danny, we must go see the well. Time is against us.” So I strap on my motorcycle helmet and we jet off to Mwambazi, a village in the Timbiri Traditional Authority (TA), the same TA in which we live. It’s there that World Vision, an NGO that needs no introduction has funded the construction of a conference centre and nursery, and has hired Foster to install a shallow well to provide safe, clean water to the facility.

Foster, showing the shallow well he will be building a cement apron for to protect it from contamination.When we arrive, it turns out time wasn’t against us, and we are the first there so Foster shows me the well shaft which has already been dug and lined with bricks and cement mortar. Fairly quickly the rest of Foster’s construction team arrives and we get to work. The first task is mixing the cement with sand, gravel and water to obtain the correct consistencyMixing gravel into the concrete.



While the mixing is being done, Foster calls for the housing for the pump. The one provided for this job by World Vision is an Afridev model, a fairly standard and durable pump. This pump is however designed for boreholes and not shallow wells. The housing has 3 legs with jut down and are wide enough to support it in a borehole, but not wide enough for a shallow well. To compensate for this Foster places the housing in a hole, and fills it with sand. A little bit of creative construction, putting the casing in a hole to build without including the Afridev-designed legsThis will allow him to build the concrete skirt which protects the well above the level of the legs, which will simply hang down into the well.

Normally the Afridev pump is used for boreholes, which are narrower wells dug by a drill rigs. Boreholes go much deeper and are able to tap aquifers which are unreachable by hand dug wells. In the case of this well however the aquifer is very close to the surface, only two or three meters down and, as Foster puts it, “You could use anything to reach this water.” The Afridev is very durable, efficient at pumping and spare parts in the case of a breakdown are more readily available than any other pump model, that’s why World Vision has chosen to use it for this installation. It is however more expensive.

Yolam taking a trowel to the first layer of concrete and rebar in the apronNext bricks and a sheet of plastic are laid down to give the apron shape, and the region is filled with concrete.  Segments or rebar are added to the concrete, to increase it’s strength and flexibility. Once the mould is filled, Yolam Kamanga, Foster’s Nephew (who has also been trained as a Marion Medical Mission Maintenance Assistant for that NGO’s water points) smoothes out the layer.

The concrete shelf where the spillway will be sloped from Next, moulding for a second layer is added, and a shelf is created out of the concrete. This will allow a spillway to be added after the concrete sets so that water drains away from the pump and doesn’t lie stagnant allowing mosquitoes to breed.

The concrete takes approximately five days to set so we won’t be returning until Tuesday to move the apron over the open hole and complete the rest of the concrete “civil works” which surround a protected water point as well as install the pump. So there’s still much to do. Tune in next time for part 2!

The team, from right to left: Yolam Kamanga (Maintenance Assistant/Builder), Foster Longwe (Supervisor), Name Here (Village Headman), Name Here, Name Here

To see all the pictures from today, have a look at the link below:





Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why spend all this time in Malawi?

Besides the beautiful weather and wonderful people? There is a reason this should be more than a vacation.

Some Background

In some documentation the Malawian government had released in the past, a coverage rate in rural areas for safe water points has been quoted at over 80%. If this were in fact true it would be an astounding feat, and mean a lower fatality rates from water-born pathogens, and dehydration from diarrhoea.

Unfortunately it is far less than 80% of rural Malawians who have access to safe water. This is not so say that documents form government offices are lying but not all factors have been considered when coming up with this figure. Essentially, the issue is a question of statistics, thankfully Owen Scott (find his blog here), one of EWB’s African Programs Staff (APS) in Malawi has produced to great pie charts for the lest statistically inclined of us (as a note, these calculations are only really “back of the envelope” and just like the 80% are also inaccurate, but they are used here to give an idea of the challenges to effective water coverage).

image The figure of 80% water coverage comes from the calculation of summing the number of safe water points in the country, and the number of people in rural areas, and determining how much water is available. As an example, a borehole is said to have the capacity to provide safe drinking water to approximately 150 people, a shallow well to approximately half that. Based on these numbers, Malawi has a certain number of water points which can provide water to a certain number of people, and a certain population. Subtract the two and you arrive with just over 80% coverage in rural areas.

The first factor not considered is that, wells don’t spring eternal (I couldn’t resist a water pun) and eventually the pump falls into disrepair, either allowing contamination of the water source, or preventing users from drawing water altogether. Strategies vary from district to district, but in Nkhata Bay District where I am placed the government supports a network of private individuals who have been trained (either by the government or a number of NGOs with water programs)  to maintain these pumps. However there are obstacles which often stand in these Area Mechanics (AMs) way.  Often communities do not have the funds to pay for the labour or spare parts in the repair either forcing AMs to work on a voluntary basis, bankrupting some of them or leaving the well in disrepair. imageAn increasing obstacle in Nkhata Bay district is that spare parts simply are not available as the supply chain from the manufactures in the south to the grocery and convenient stores around the district who are meant to carry them has broken down. Non-functionality puts our pie chart like this.

The second thing to consider is inequitable distribution of water points. This occurs for various reasons, district water offices don’t know where water points are, some NGOs don’t communicate with government before drilling, and sometimes instead of repairing an existing well, an organization will drill a new well image(for various reasons, sometimes because they don’t have the capacity or scope of program for repairs, sometime to report a higher number of wells installed to their donors).   Factoring in unequal distribution Owen’s pie chart now looks like this.

My Piece of the Pie

Foster showing a "Mark V" pump installed on a shallow well by the Marion Medical Mission, one of the active NGOs in the area Where my work fits in is mostly addressing challenges in the ‘non functionality piece’ of the pie chart. I’m living and working with Foster Longwe an area mechanic who services wells around Mpamba and partnered with the Central Church of African Presbyterianism (CCAP) Synod of Livingstonia Water and Sanitation Coordination Office (CCAP WatSan). CCAP WatSan has a plethora of water and sanitation programs that keep their office in Mzuzu, the largest city in the the Northern Region of Malawi extremely busy.

For various reasons, which could be a blog post unto itself most AMs are not successful at their work. This makes Foster an exception. He has been successful as an area mechanic and sells spare parts from his grocery store to other AMs as well as using them in his own repairs. Foster’s success has drawn the attention of CCAP WatSan. They would like to enable Foster to be able to not only repair wells, but install wells for private individuals around Mpamba. To do this they are helping him secure loans to purchase equipment for Baptist Percussion Drilling, a manual method for digging boreholes and looking for ways to secure loans for his potential customers. Additionally CCAP WatSan is looking to become a supplier of spare well parts for the Northern Region, and use Foster as a distributor to other spare parts shops in Nkhata Bay District. DSC00295 Foster is already a very entrepreneurial person, he runs his grocery and owns a minibus (bus about the size of a van, pictured here)  and I’m working with him on what business considerations he needs to have in mind to make this program a success and hopefully determining how similar approaches to well installation can be applied in other districts.