As the drowsy heat of afternoon descends, traffic on the footpath leading out of the village slows to a trickle. But small groups of women and children still regularly walk up to fill their large plastic buckets from the stainless-steel pump at the top of a rise of land overlooking a rice paddy.
To the Canadians gathered around the pump, the water tastes bitter and heavy. But the Rev. Geoffrey Monjesa, development officer for the diocese of Masasi, assures them it is clean and safe for human consumption. And in southern Tanzania’s arid savannah, this is what matters most.
Until the pump was installed at the end of January 2017, most of Ndomoni’s 1,321 residents walked up to eight km to the nearest village to get water, or relied on surface water from ponds, which required boiling.
Now, because of a project funded by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) as part of a nutrition and food security project (known locally as the Community Health Improvement Project, or CHIP, which came to a close in March 2017), this walk has been shortened to a little more than a kilometre.
The Canadians are members of a PWRDF delegation that has come to the diocese of Masasi to learn more about All Mothers and Children Count (AMCC), a larger project that builds off work done during CHIP.
Though AMCC is focused on maternal and newborn child health, Monjesa uses this trip to the borehole to show how interconnected different aspects of the development projects are: there is a vast web of factors that affect health, and water is one of the most essential.
“We cannot talk of treatment while water is not there,” he explains, noting that people without a ready supply of clean drinking water will face a host of other health challenges. “Now, because water is here, it is easier for us now to educate people about [medical] treatment.”
But having accessible water isn’t just about having water that is safe to drink. It is also about freeing up time—especially for the women and girls, who collect most of the water.
“Time which they spent to walk long distances, now they use for other development activities,” Monjesa says. Girls whose time might otherwise have been spent carrying water can stay in school longer, and mothers have more time to take their children to the clinic for a checkup, he notes.
Setting up a borehole is no small task. It can take more than a year from the first site survey to the first jet of water from the pump’s mouth.
After hydrologists identify an appropriate site (which must meet the government’s water policy and environmental policy criteria), an environmental impact assessment is carried out and sent to PWRDF, Global Affairs Canada and the Tanzanian government. Once the Canadian and Tanzanian governments sign off on it, the drilling can begin.
The depth of the borehole depends on the location, but in the case of Ndomoni, it took the drilling machines (rented from Mtwara, 200 km away) five days to penetrate 120 metres down, through bedrock, to find water, at a cost of $130,000 TZS (nearly $80 CAD) per metre.
Once the borehole has been drilled, water samples are sent to a laboratory in Mtwara for testing. If the water is deemed safe, the pump can be installed. In some cases, the government may decide to extend electricity to the site and pump water from the borehole to a holding tank in the village, saving the villagers even more time. (The government has told Ndomoni it will be setting up this infrastructure in the near future.)
If the laboratory test finds the water unsafe, however, the borehole will be shut down, and the whole process will have to start over.
“You may find that work is going to take place, maybe in July or in August, but the process started last year!” says Monjesa. “Especially for a hungry person, for a thirsty person, waiting that long period is very difficult for them.”
Fortunately, according to Monjesa, all 30 of the boreholes dug as part of the CHIP program hit safe drinking water on the first try. A further 20 will be built as part of the AMCC program.