Saturday, June 9, 2012


Hand dug wells

As you will have realized from my blogs about the pump project and the weather, water is a serious problem here in Burkina Faso. The traditional way to get water is from a well that has been dug by hand. People start to dig down in a place where they hope they will find water.  They may make the hole only wide enough for one man to get into it and continue digging, or it may be a well with a wider diameter. In either case, as the hole is dug out, the sides are lined with rocks or, if there is money for it, concrete.  Here is a picture of the interior of a hand dug well that has been lined with concrete.  You can see the places where digging stopped to allow the wall to be cemented if you look carefully.
 Here is a picture of the same well, with kids nearby so you can see how big it is.  Notice the big metal bowl sitting on the cement platform by the well.  It is what many women use to carry water home.  They fill it full and get someone to help them lift it onto their heads because it is too heavy to lift it themselves.  I am forever amazed at the amount of weight the women carry that way.
To get the water out of the well, you use a "bucket" that is made out of part of a truck tire inner-tube. As you can see, the bucket is not really waterproof, but it does the job.
From the picture below you can get an idea of how wide the opening of the well is. Kids often stand on the wall around the well to pull the water up.  I can see this well from my house and when I see them doing it, I worry that one of them will fall in, but so far that has not happened  
 You dig the well as deep as you can during the dry season.  You dig until you hit the granite that you find, perhaps 20 feet or so down.  Then you can't go any farther.  The water you get from these wells is not from the aquifer but is the water that cannot get through the granite layer.  During the rainy season there is a lot of water in this well, but during the dry season the well dries out completely.  Last year there was water in it until February or March.  This year the water was gone in early January because the rainfall was very light last summer.

Water from a well like this would not really be safe to drink because it is open the air, and contaminants can easily get into the ground water you pull from it. Some local folks do drink it, but I expect they have developed immunity to some of the microbes, and they do get sick a lot.

Ponds and Lakes

 Other sources of water, especially for animals and for washing, are the ponds and small lakes that are formed during the rainy season.  There may be a dam built to flood an area, and dirt may be removed from some of that area so there is a larger basin to hold the water. People may dig the dirt out of a small area so water collects there when it rains, either purposefully, to create a pond, or because they have removed the dirt to make bricks. This is a small lake that has been created by a dam.
Water from ponds and lakes is also dangerous to drink because of the contamination by runoff and animals leaving their droppings in the water. Furthermore, they also tend to go day in the dry season. During the rainy season, the pond below comes up about two feet high on the trunk of the large tree in the foreground.

Water from the Water Company

Fortunately, in the town near where I live there is a government owned water company called ONEA that has drilled several deep wells, into the aquifer, so there is water all year round.  The water is pumped from the wells into these water towers.  Every day someone from the water company climbs up the towers and checks to see if the chlorine level is high enough.  If it is not, they drop in another chlorine tablet, like you put into a swimming pool.
While water from the hand dug well is free, you have to pay for the water that comes from the water company. You pay 10 CAF (about 2 cents) for a 20 liter jug of water. Most people get the water by taking these big plastic or metal barrels to a place where they can fill them from a faucet. They are permanently attached to the wheeled carts that are often pushed or pulled by hand, but may be pulled by a donkey, if you are rich enough to have one.
Here is the place where the girls get my water from ONEA.
Here is a picture of the barrel they haul my water it.  This picture was taken in December 2010 when Janet's family was visiting me. My granddaughter, Abby, is watching Peligi transferring the water from the barrel to my green plastic jugs, and my son in law, Jonathan is in the background.
If you live in the town, you may have a faucet in your courtyard.  If you have your own water spigot, there is a water meter that measures how much you have used and you pay a monthly fee based on usage.  I don't know of any houses in my town that have indoor plumbing with running water for showers, cooking or toilets.  That may be just a well, because there is, of course, no sewer system. Even in Ouaga, all the places I know of that have running water in the house use a septic tank.

I have told you before how I treat the water once it gets into the house, but I will repeat it here, in case you did not read the earlier blogs.  As I explained, the water people do not constantly monitor the level of chlorine in the water supply. As a result, you can never be sure if there was enough chlorine in the water at the moment it comes from the faucet. Also because my water is carried in the open barrel and transferred into my green jugs, carried into the house, and dumped into a plastic garbage can for storage, I always put my drinking water through this water filter that the Peace Corps provided for me. I add chlorine to the water after it has been filtered to assure it is safe to drink. Here is another granddaughter, Annie, showing how you pour the water in the top

and how it comes out the bottom.
I also add chlorine to the water I use for washing dishes and rinsing fruit and vegetables.
Finally, here is a canari, a big ceramic jug which you can fill with water.  Because the ceramic is a bit porous, the water seeps out very slow, evaporating and cooling the water inside.  Local people usually have a canari somewhere in their house or court and, when a person arrives to visit, it is customary to offer the new comer a cup of water. I do not drink the water from my canari, but I do put a Nalgene bottle of Kool-Aid lemonade into the canari so that it gets cooled.  70 degrees may not seem like a cool drink to you, but when the temperature is 100+, it is quite refreshing.

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