What a borehole.

This is a borehole repair at Bosomkyekye, a reasonable size village outside Mampong. A borehole is not an insult. It’s a deep hole drilled in the ground that water comes out of through a pump. Sometimes it’s 120-odd feet deep. That’s not 120 odd feet. They’re quite normal feet. It means approximate, silly.

A borehole water pump comprises a deep hole, down which you’ll find a pipe (made of steel or plastic), with a pump cylinder at the bottom that pulls water up the pipe. At the top, connected to the bottom by lots of metal rods, is a pump handle in a housing. Pump pump pump and up from the depths comes lovely clean water that is safe to drink and totally wet. But metal rods, pipes, pump cylinders and pump handles can all break, especially when pumps are used all day every day by these crazy villagers who insist on drinking, washing and cooking with water. The bits are actually quite delicate, and they have a fairly tough job to do.

Anyway, this borehole wasn’t working, so with the help of some of the villagers, we pulled the whole lot out. You have to lift the pipe and unscrew each ten foot section to take it off, holding on to the pipe for dear life in case the whole thing goes crashing back down the hole. When you start taking it out, you’re lifting the cumulative weight of around 120 feet of steel piping, rods, washers and pump cylinder. It’s heavy. Very. Heavy.

It turned out that this borehole had a faulty pump cylinder. Either by cleaning and checking the cylinder or by replacing the part altogether (in this case a clean and check as an interim fix with the need to fully replace the cylinder as soon as a spare can be obtained), the pump is fixed and water flows again. The repair takes comfortably over an hour and six or seven people including an engineer. Bosomkyekye has three boreholes serving the community, each slightly different, all with faults, all of which needed repair.

Here is water flowing through the pump again, which is very cool. Not cool. Cool as in good.

A working pump pumps water into a pan
It works

Many communities where water pumps have been installed have faulty pumps. Iron treatment tanks get full, pump handles break, other components go wrong. The pump stays broken. In some cases the community doesn’t even know which NGO or other agency installed their water pumps. These pumps become little more than useless rusting sculptures while villages are forced to get their water from other sources – rivers, streams, springs. Alternatives are often polluted. Diarrhoea, Bilharzia and other conditions are a risk.

So Ashanti Development, the people I have been working for these last six months, work with communities to establish and support WATSAN (water and sanitation) committees. These committees report to the village Unit Committee. They can hire pump attendants to unlock pumps at set times of the day, keep the pump area clean, charge families to take water (5 pesewas or around 2p for two large jerrycans), manage accounts, and crucially arrange their own repairs when pumps go faulty. WATSAN committees do plenty of other stuff as well but keeping the water flowing in a community is probably their most essential job.

So, a round of applause for the humble borehole pump, and the WATSAN committees who keep them ticking over. And please turn your tap off when you’re brushing your teeth. Thank you.