Making Safe Water Happen: the step-by-step process of installing a borehole in rural Zimbabwe

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

If you’ve ever taken the Safe Water September challenge or donated to someone who has, you may have wondered about the water projects you’re helping fund. With the help of our Zimbabwean partner, Showers of Blessing, we’ll walk you through the process of how boreholes come to be, from identifying communities in need of safe water, through to drilling and installing wells.  

First, a few words about our model: we work on a partnerships basis. That means that neither embody nor our parent organisation, Global Mission Partners, has direct staff in Zimbabwe. Instead, we partner closely with a local organisation called Showers of Blessing, headed up by our friend Boniface. Showers of Blessing is a ministry of Churches of Christ based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and operates in the rural communities surrounding the city.

Second, the safe water Showers of Blessing provides is accessed through boreholes. Boreholes are narrow holes that reach the aquifer, which is a layer of porous rock (like gravel) deep underground that holds water. You’ve probably heard of the ‘water table’: this is the name given to the top of an aquifer. Inside the hole, a pipe and pump are installed, which filter water out of the rock and draw it up to the surface.We asked Showers of Blessing to share their step-by-step process with us, showing how they build boreholes alongside local communities.

1. Choosing and approving a site in need of safe water
The business of providing safe water can be political, with officials and community leaders petitioning NGOs to come to their village. This is not a bad thing, but Showers of Blessing doesn’t pursue water projects on the requests of leaders alone. Instead, they visit communities personally, asking locals about how they access water. Boniface usually undertakes these visits, where he tries to ascertain things like how far the nearest available water source is, how many people rely on it, whether the community is settled or nomadic, and whether any other government or NGO groups plan to provide water access soon. Because it’s important to integrate with local governance structures and not just do their own thing, Showers of Blessing interacts with the local council and chief to gain approval and endorsement for the project.

2. Consulting with the community
Once a village is approved for a water project, Showers of Blessing works with the head of the village – commonly the chief – to run a community meeting for all in the village to have input into where the potential borehole should be located. This is important so that people have the opportunity to advocate for their own needs and communally decide on a site that benefits everyone. The site must be neutral land, and not on the village chief or local church’s property, for example, so that everyone has fair and equal access to water.

3. Surveying the land
After the community has agreed on a general site for the borehole, a hydrological surveyor comes in and identifies a specific prospective water point. Community members assist in the surveyor’s work and install a marker peg on the spot where the borehole is to be drilled. The community also protects this site until the borehole is drilled.

4. Clearing the site
Before a borehole can be drilled, the rig (which is on a large truck) needs to be able to access the site. Showers of Blessing works in rural areas, so sometimes the proposed water points are in the middle of the bush. The community is tasked with clearing a road for the drilling rig, which the chief usually supervises. This part of the process can take a few months to gradually complete. Roads can be environmentally destructive, so communities are encouraged to take a longer route if it will preserve trees and wildlife. 

5. Drilling the borehole
Showers of Blessing contracts a drilling company to come and drill the borehole. On the drill day, Boniface comes to supervise and members of the community gather around to watch. The rig drills down 40 to 80 metres into the aquifer. If the drilling is unsuccessful and the site fails to yield water, then Boniface informs the community of the outcome, and the surveying process is repeated and another attempt made. If the drilling is successful, then the borehole is sealed off to prevent contamination of the aquifer until the rest of the well is installed.

6. Installing the well
Using materials and plans provided by Showers of Blessing, community members construct a concrete apron and soak-pit around the borehole, as well as a fence. The day this is completed and the well is ready looks something like this:

The community forms a committee responsible for the borehole’s future upkeep, and Showers of Blessing shows people how to maintain the bore. Often the borehole is officially opened in a commissioning ceremony attended by local leaders, and of course, Boniface.

One final note:
You might notice that we mention ‘community members’ a lot when talking about how a borehole gets drilled. It might even seem odd that Showers of Blessing is entrusted to build boreholes, yet they seem to outsource much of the work to locals.

In international development broadly, establishing community ‘buy-in’ for a project is highly valued. Projects where the community has a participatory role in planning, implementing, and monitoring a solution – like a well – have been found to be more highly valued, better maintained, and at an ethical level, more robust than simply coming into a village and handing over a solution that doesn’t suit the community’s needs or wants. We believe that partnering with community members leads to sustainable, well-used, well-maintained boreholes.


What else would you like to know about our water projects? Leave a comment with your question, and we’ll find out an answer!

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