Drilling Water Wells in Africa: What You Need To Know

Drilling water wells in Africa that are built to last requires technical knowledge, cultural understanding/sensitivity, proper planning, quality materials, and years of experience.

Whether you are looking to construct your own water well or looking to partner with a charity organization already drilling water wells in Africa, below are five things that you should know.

1. Drilling Water Wells Takes Technical Expertise

There are many factors involved in drilling water wells in Africa from deciding the optimal area to drill to putting the finishing touches on construction.

These factors include but are not limited to the following:

  • The chemical weathering of the earth
  • The proximity to human and animal feces
  • Seasonal water table fluctuations
  • Water quality

Any type of safe water access construction also requires proper quality materials and must align with national standards of engineering and construction.

This all takes technical knowledge and skill to accomplish. To drill a water well, you need a team of experts that include a hydrogeologist, a drilling crew, a WASH Engineer, and a local community water committee.

Drill rigs themselves also require different components to operate effectively. There is the actual drilling machine, the air compressor, drill bits, and drilling pipe—all of which must be properly managed and adjusted throughout the drilling process.

Drilling water wells in Africa
Lifewater’s Ethiopian drill rig crew often serve as both operators and mechanics.

2. Traditional Drilled Water Wells Are Not Always the Right Solution

Drilling is not always the most appropriate solution to provide safe water to a community. Sometimes, in rural, remote communities, drilling is not even feasible.

According to Sarah Young, Lifewater’s WASH Engineer, “Groundwater may not exist in the geological formations in some villages, especially if the village is on a hilltop or hillside away from the areas where rainwater can recharge a well.”

Other times, in very rural, remote corners of Africa, “It may be physically impossible to drive the drill rig and its components to the village,” she said.

Every water project is a custom solution that begins with identifying the assets already available and implementing the best solution for the specific water challenges facing a community or school.


There are other types of water access solutions that might be more appropriate for a community. One option is a low-tech hand-dug well, a type of water source that can be constructed when the water table available at a shallow depth and the well is literally dug by hand and lined all the way down with cement.

Another option is called a protected spring which is possible when a natural spring is flowing nearby. With this solution, spring water is stored and directed to a tap by way of a piped system to protect the water from contamination.

Mechanical pumping is another option that is becoming more popular. After drilling, the team installs a mechanical submersible water pump powered by solar panels. This allows for the distribution of water across many villages at one time without the need for local electricity or a traditional hand pump.

Importantly, every water project is a custom solution that begins with identifying the assets already available and implementing the best solution for the specific water challenges facing a community or school.

“We don’t just come with one type of solution that we’re definitely going to do,” Young said. “We come with several options that can help.”


3. Drilling Water Wells Can Improve Sustainability

When constructed properly and in partnership with a community leadership team, drilled water wells with traditional hand pumps can be a long-lasting, sustainable solution to address a rural communities water problems.

Given recent discoveries, this is especially important.

The Hidden Crisis Project, a UK-funded research program, published an alarming discovery in 2017. Of 200 water wells selected at random in Uganda, 45 percent were not functional. Only 24 percent were able to provide safe and adequate quantities of water to the communities they served.

The others, if they were producing water at all, weren’t producing enough for the communities and/or the water was unsafe for drinking.

drilling water wells in africa
Lifewater staff package water for water quality testing.

Similar research from the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) shows that, on average, 22 percent of all types of water sources (not just deep, drilled wells) in developing countries are currently broken down.

According to Lifewater’s WASH Engineer, drilled wells can be the most sustainable option. Right now, Lifewater’s real-time monitoring and tracking shows a 98% sustainability rate of Lifewater water sources.

“One particular advantage of drilled wells is that they tend to be very well protected from contamination from the surface,” Young said.

Drilled water wells are also able to reach water in deep aquifers in the earth, meaning seasonal fluctuations in the water table are less likely to affect the quantity of water available at the well.

When considering drilling water wells in Africa with a nonprofit, find out how they track the sustainability of their water sources. Learn about how they work with communities to ensure that there are funds and parts available for inevitable future repairs.

Organizations who keep data on this care deeply about constructing lasting wells, and you’re likely to see the fruits of your investment for years to come.


Lifewater’s Ethiopia drill rig crew finds water deep in the earth as the community around them watches in anticipation.

4. Water Projects Require Cultural Sensitivity

Community members in rural villages have insight and skills to contribute to a successful water project. And, many times, where the water source is constructed and whom will use it have implications that water organizations should know about before drilling takes place.

“A water well is the focal point of the community,” Young said. “For women, it’s a place of meeting up and being able to interact.”

Deciding where a well goes is something the community should participate in.

drilling water wells in africa
A woman and child in Busango village, Uganda fill their containers at the safe water well.

“The process of making decisions together like that can be very empowering and create some positive momentum,” she said.

Some villages have had attempts at drilling water wells before and can offer insight into what type of water solution will work best and where there’s likely to not be sufficient groundwater.

Additionally, some communities may have friction or disagreement with their neighbors. Creating one water source to serve them both, although this may be the most cost-effective option, could prove troublesome in the future.

Asking questions, listening, and seeking wisdom from local leaders and community members are all vital when drilling water wells in Africa.


5. Drilling Water Wells in Africa Requires Hands-On Experience

A rigorous engineering education cannot teach someone what they would learn from on-the-ground experience. If you want to drill water wells in Africa, it is important to consider a partner that has successfully done it over and over again.

Sarah Young has spent 17 years doing WASH engineering in the majority world. According to her, “One of the big things that experience teaches is that I don’t know it all.”

There is no “one size fits all” solution to the global water problem and every village comes with its own challenges.

“As someone operating outside the country, it’s good not to go in thinking we know all the answers because we were trained in the United States,” she said. “At Lifewater, our drilling team has on-the-ground experience and professional engineers who are classically trained.”

“We work on each project together to provide the best water solution that will serve a community for generations to come,” she added.


Lifewater International is a Christian non-profit clean water and community health organization committed to helping children and families living in extreme poverty thrive. Learn more about Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village program and the unique contributions local churches, governments, leaders, and families make to build a healthier and more productive future for their children.

Choose a Village. Change a Life.