Providing Clean Water to an African Village: Not a Simple Turn of the Tap

By Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our fourth blog is by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

How far away is the nearest water source from where you are sitting now? An arm’s length across your desk? A few feet? Right outside the window?

Villagers carry water jug and food basket

Villagers carry water jug and food basket

Next time you get the urge to take a drink of fresh, ice cold water, take a moment to think about places that may not have the same laws and regulations.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the global water crisis. Many communities in developing countries don’t have easy access to clean drinking water. They must walk miles each day with heavy jugs on their heads, just to collect muddy water from puddles or rivers. This water is then used to drink, wash dishes, and sanitize their bodies. The water is filled with bacteria, parasites, and waste that can cause a variety of debilitating diseases including malaria and cholera. As a result, thousands of people die every day from avoidable diseases caused by contaminated water.

Little do they know, the water they so desperately need is often right beneath their feet.

Emily Nusz (center) with group of Kenyan children

Emily Nusz (center) with group of Kenyan children

A few hot summers ago, members of my church and I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya. Our mission was not only to provide care for children in orphanages, but to provide a village with clean water. We decided the best way to accomplish this task was to build the community a water well in the heart of the village for easy accessibility. Our team raised money for the well, and then we were ready to make a large time and energy commitment to a long-term solution for the people. The excitement of our arrival was very powerful. I remember every face in the village beaming with joy.

Water wells can provide clean water for hundreds of villagers. A pump or a tap built in the center of the community can save an entire day of walking to the nearest muddy puddle, and save hundreds of lives by preventing exposure to harmful or even deadly diseases.

Water can be found in underground, permeable rock layers called aquifers, from which the water can be pumped. An aquifer fills with water from rain or melted snow that drains into the ground. Aquifers are natural filters that trap bacteria and provide natural purification of the groundwater flowing through them. Wells can be dug or drilled, depending on the time and cost of the project. They can be dug using a low-cost, hand-dug method, or built using either a high-cost, deep well method or a shallow well, low-cost method. Safe drinking water can usually be found within 100 feet of the surface.

Kenyan countryside in summer

Kenyan countryside in summer

Although I was not physically involved in building the village well, we all contributed to the mission we set out to accomplish. A well was built by drilling a hole that reached down far enough to reach an aquifer, and even lined with steel to keep out pollutants. Our team put together pipes and hand pumps that enabled the villagers to pull the water out of the well and use it safely. Our team was very gratified to know that the well we built will provide clean water for a community of up to 500 people for many years to come!

Learn more about water wells. The best way to keep our water clean is to stay informed of ways to help reduce the risks and protect the source. Learn how you can help. To learn more about global water statistics, visit Global WASH Fast Facts.

About the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

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