As the 2016 season comes to a close, our work continues to make a significant impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, with a new total of 275 wells drilled since 2005.
2015 Well Evaluation Survey Shaped 2016 Planning and Drilling Operations Improvement
The 2016 drilling, hygiene and rehabilitation season was significantly impacted by our first ever well evaluation survey. In February and March of 2015, WFSS Board Member Angelique Stevens and WFSS Field Operations Manager Ater Akol Thiep visited 80 wells, including some of the earliest wells drilled in 2005. Using a rigorously designed survey process, they inspected well platforms, tested water quality, and interviewed villagers on their well use and more.
The survey’s data confirmed that even the earliest WFSS wells remain in good working order and are producing clean water. The well evaluation also affirmed that our process of training villagers in well maintenance and care is key to keeping clean water flowing. Wells that did experience mechanical breakdowns were repaired in a matter of days, providing minimal interruption to clean water access. However, the survey also provided insights into overall well technical design that need improvement for longer-term sustainability.
The current well platform and drainage design is not unique to WFSS but is common to most drilled wells in South Sudan and other developing countries. Our Operations Team has seized the opportunity to improve on this common design in order to insure longer-term sustainability of both the well itself and, perhaps most important, the quality of the water being pumped.
What We Learned and What’s Changing
The 2015 well visits revealed that the cement platforms around wells showed signs of erosion over time. Such erosion can be caused by animals, constant access by large numbers of people, soil differences, water run-off and the climate’s impact. Consistency of the cement mix and application can also affect the life of the platform.
Our Operations Team began working to develop a more robust and sustainable well platform design. WFSS Board member John De Seyn traveled to several US water conferences to network and research well designs. Together with US Director of Operations and Board member Don Fairman, they worked through the summer and fall of 2015 to develop a plan for strengthening the concrete composition of the well, and the design of the platform. They determined that the channel leading from the pump to the drinking pool for animals could be lengthened from 10 to 30 feet, and instead of a concrete channel could be replaced by a steel pipe, thus eliminating the potential for concrete erosion.
Together with our South Sudan Operations Team, they also determined that enlisting the help of villagers to construct fencing around the well head would better protect the well and prevent any animal traffic near the pump or drainage channel.
Finally, in looking at the entire drilling process, our Operations Team also discovered better ways to seal the well, including refilling the borehole with dirt removed in the drilling process. A more robust sealing process ensures that WFSS wells will continue to protect the aquifer that provides water to our wells.
“We know that we have a much better process now,” says US Operations Director and Board member Don Fairman. “Greater sustainability of our wells means that in the long run we’ll be able to help even more people as our wells last longer and have fewer breakdowns.”
2016 Season Nearing End as Rains Begin
WFSS drills during the dry season, which typically runs from late November or early December until late April or early May. This year it appears that the rains are starting earlier, so our drilling team is beginning to wind down.
This season’s drilling was delayed from our usual December/January start as we finalized well redesign, tested and piloted those changes. It was further slowed by delays from suppliers. But that didn’t stop our South Sudan team who took advantage of the delayed start time by repairing 20 wells drilled by other organizations in and around Wau, where our compound is located.
Once underway, this year’s drilling took place in three steps: drilling, finishing and sealing. The team started drilling in February, and were able to drill 16 boreholes as they awaited supplies. As of this writing the team has sealed 11 boreholes, and will begin sealing and finishing the remaining as time and weather conditions allow.
While we didn’t reach our usual number of wells drilled this season, the lessons learned, the improved well platform and drainage design which will be used by WFSS will have a significant impact on future wells, and wells we’ll retrofit with the new design and water quality protections. As we continue to learn and improve, we’ll be sharing our knowledge with other water drilling operations as well as the South Sudanese Ministry which oversees water access and management.
Hygiene Education Continues
The WFSS Hygiene Education Team, inaugurated in 2014 and led by Mathew Akuar, traveled with the drilling team to conduct hygiene assessment, education and training in each village which received a well. The team trains eight people in every village (four men and four women) who can then train others. The training process includes identifying local hygiene issues and empowering locals to determine which issues they would like to improve in their communities. As the trainees share their knowledge with others in their community, they are able to help extend the impact of clean water.
The hygiene team is also involved in our sustainability efforts, and will work to help educate villagers on the importance of maintaining the well and constructing fencing to protect it. Future WFSS evaluations will include how well villages continue their hygiene training and practices.