Sometimes I Get Very Pissed Off In Africa

I was in a village of 3500 people a few days ago. It is only about 18km in the bush from a paved road, but still very removed from a major town.
This village has received three drilled deep wells with hand pumps installed. Great for them, right? They certainly need the water.

Right now two of the hand pumps are broken and only one remaining pump is functioning at this time. This will probably have issues soon, after receiving triple the usage.

This is the quality of the water coming from the village’s only remaining deep pump well. Is it because of the overuse?


People are drinking it.

With broken pumps most simply reverted to using their open shallow wells.

I have a policy of only offering our water purification filters to small remote camps without any deep pump wells, having only shallow open wells that are contaminated to drink from. They will probably never get their small camp on a government or NGO well drilling list,  like this larger village did, three times.

The issue seems to be that although the village people are supposed to pay for pump repairs themselves, through a small usage fee, a requirement for every well drilling project, they have not been, or not been able to collect the fees from the users, and now have no way of paying for repairs.

Each household using the pumps is supposed to contribute a sum per month for future pump repairs. The sum is something like 150 CFA (30 cents) per month. Affordable even here.

However, the village pump committee, made up of both men and women,  did not do their job, or people got stubborn and simply would not give their contributions, which requires the pump committee to bar the people from using the deep well pump.

Now the village people are wearing out their one remaining pump, while holding out on contributing what they were supposed to, in the hopes that money will magically appear from some NGO or AID program to do it for them. Others are drawing water from their own hand dug open wells, of a very poor water quality, because they won’t pay the fee.   Either that, or they hope that a few of the wealthier clans in the village will get fed up with the water problem and toss money at the problem, to be done with it.

A month ago,  I was in yet another village where the women in one court yard, about a half dozen of them, were all drawing water from their open courtyard well, because they don’t want to walk the 200 yards to the deep well pump.  I see this occur in dozens of villages, every single trip to the bush.

You can’t convince them their water is bad. I took out a filter and filtered a cup of there open well water,  that they said was clean, and compared it with an unfiltered cup. Their mouths fell open. Walk to the frigging pump ladies, your killing your health and that of your children.

In a village with a deep pump well that would have safe drinking water, I watch 90% of the women in every courtyard I am in, draw water from their shallow open wells, rather than walk to the assured source. Why is that?

Back to the village with the broken pumps. This village has received more programs than any village I know.

  • A school build by Germany, Canada and the UN.
  • A wire fenced in garden with a huge hand dug open well, paid for by Spain.
  • The Swiss paid to fence in a second garden, about half a hectare.
  • They have also received training and funding from a program promoting  outhouses, to stop open defecation. World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Canada, UN,  and Save the children  co-funded this project.

Gosh, project signs are all over the place.

Guess what? The village men were hinting that I might come and fix their two pumps for them.

Really? Our little underfunded humanitarian agency, who’s annual budget wouldn’t even keep one of these NGO Agencies, who have now worked in this village, operating for one hour of one day?

Sorry, village, you have already received three deep well projects.  I am not fixing your pump for you.

The solution to your problem is you, because you are the problem, not the people who brought the project.  Go and collect your fees from your people like you agreed to do, to receive each individual well project. Do the job you were entrusted with, pump committee. Bar those who will not participate. The small fee always affords the necessary sum for repairs.

I read a report that claims 80% of the wells drilled in Africa are unused, with a broken pump head, that village will not fix. Is this for real?

Clean water is such a fundamental need to village life, health, and human survival.  In my estimation, a village that has received a deep well project, and are having issues with collecting fees to maintain their well, should be flagged. No further development work should go to that village until they set down their most basic priorities of securing a healthy functioning water supply, with full community participation.

I think we do need to hold NGO agencies to account for this, and the local villages more so. Malians are not stupid. They are poor, but they have the same thought processes. Could a Malian have the same character, as any other human?  Such as a few of them being stingy, opportunistic,  passive aggressive, lazy, a thief who took pump money?

Da! Yes!

AID can develop this idea in a population that, “There is this magic money somewhere out there, that might come, so I don’t have to develop my myself or village.” I got to see the dark side of dependency in the village this day. It is vexing.

I just so happened to be driving through the village with ten water purification kits strapped on my motorcycle on this day.

However, these jokers are not getting any of my water filtration systems. The women seem just as happy to draw water from their iffy quality shallow courtyard wells, rather than contribute to fix an assured pure deep pump well. The pump committees have failed to do their work, both the men and women on it, for whatever reason.

I don’t put the blame on the AID or NGO program on this one. I think water projects are one the most needed and best things to support in Africa, despite this discouraging story.  It is the more complicated projects I think that need to be ditched.

The committee was formed, trained, and functioned for a time, it must have. So something changed…. something we don’t know about. The problem here is 100% the village. Check our western savior complex. We have NO business being in there at this stage. They know exactly what the problem is, they know exactly the best cultural way to handle it, as they have been negotiating village problems (Far worse than this easy fix) for decades and centuries. Malians are not stupid when it comes to life issues. Village may look simple to us,but do not mistake that for being ineffective or not capable.

A westerners role might possibly be to kick start the conversation, and that would be about it. Even that is a HUGE assumption, the assumption that the village people want this conversation now, or possibly at a later time, or, if at all. Malians (Much of West Africa) realize sometimes you have to let things sit a while, and people suffer, or think a little, then they might be ready for the talk, or for some change, or not.

Village leadership here know a truth we often miss about humanity.. When it comes to West Africa, do not assume suffering has a direct correlation to a persons willingness to resolve problems, change centuries old behavior patterns, habits and thought processes, or to work out decades old feuds we know nothing about. 

Only people who have done this type of work understand the truth in this former sentence. Check our little idealistic “Africa Village” people scene in our head.People are people, and they have the very same issues here. 

We humanitarians make the best choices we can with the information we have. But I assure you, no westerner understands much of any village dynamic here. Sometimes it takes years, decades, for the truth to come out.  So don’t be so quick to blame them. Don’t be so quick to herald your approach, what worked for you might not have worked here either, with these dynamics. Because the approach may not have been the problem at all, the local people were???????

This dog has a head and a tail… Some times the person closest to the ass is the NGO, other times it is the local African(s) village person or people.

I said my goodbye and kept on going to people who do not have any water quality choices, other than to use a contaminated open well. You have a choice, now live with it.

I moved on to camps of people who have never been given the opportunity, the gift, of quality deep wells, and who have not chosen to shit on their deep well project which was sent by goodhearted westerners supporting such important work with their hard earned cash. And they are out there folks.

Yes, I get angry in Africa sometimes.

You should too!

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