Communities interested in installing a well initially get in touch with the project team in Otélé, where they are provided with advice and information. Villages and settlements are required to contribute something towards the costs, either in the form of cash or contributions in kind, depending on their situation. They also undertake to assist with excavation work, as well as help provide work crews with food and accommodation.
There is no shortage of water in tropical southern Cameroon, but clean drinking water is deep underground and out of reach for most of the inhabitants. Because there is no public drinking water supply in many regions of the country, people still have to collect water today from contaminated pools and often have to carry it over great distances along hazardous trails.
Before a well can be constructed, information events are organised for the inhabitants, whose dwellings are frequently spread over a very large area. Members of the Information, Education and Communication team tell them about the serious effects that the consumption of contaminated water and a lack of hygiene can have on their health, and explain how the well has to be constructed and subsequently looked after. This information is provided to villagers in a visual and simple manner, and whenever possible interactively and in their local dialect.
The project team sets up a democratically elected committee in the village and defines the desired site for the well. A specially trained member of the project team searches for a sufficiently large water vein with the aid of a pendulum and divining rod.
The excavation team is transported to the village in trucks, together with all the necessary equipment, and the excavation of the well shaft is then carried out manually. The diameter of the shaft is 1.4 metres, and the average depth is 21 metres. The deepest shafts can reach up to 36 metres below ground. The project employees are protected by safety equipment and receive special training in its use. The villagers are required to assist the team by carrying out basic and non-hazardous work. During the construction of the well, they provide the crew with food and accommodation.
Local employees make the necessary concrete elements for the cladding, base slabs, covers, etc., of the shaft at the project’s own factory in Otélé.
The “Water is Life” project has its own all-terrain trucks for transporting the elements over often great distances and along very difficult routes.
The crew now lowers the perforated base plate into the shaft, followed by the cladding elements, which weigh 400 kilograms and are 0.5 metres high. As many as 60 of these elements may be required, depending on the depth of the shaft. The cover is then placed over the shaft, after which the pipe is inserted and the hand pump is installed.
Finally, the crew cements a large area around the well, installs a drainage system and constructs a small surrounding wall. The aim here is to prevent the well from becoming contaminated from above, but also to draw attention to the importance of the well as a central meeting point and lifeline for the village.
A party is held to celebrate the inauguration of each well, during which the villagers and the local committee are reminded about all the rules associated with its use. The correct use of the pump and proper care of the site are essential in order to ensure that everyone will be able to enjoy the benefits of the well for many years to come.
The members of the committee elected by the villagers carry out their work on a voluntary basis for the benefit of the community. They are rewarded with the gratitude of the villagers, and receive a special T-shirt from the project team.
Although each well is constructed very solidly, wear and tear, incorrect operation, weather influences, and vandalism can nonetheless give rise to malfunctions and defects. Occasionally, tropical downpours cause so much damage that the well has to be rebuilt. And in some cases the water vein may run dry, and a new well therefore has to be constructed.
To ensure that the wells remain functional over the long term, each year around 600 are inspected and more than 200 have to be repaired. The “Water is Life” project has its own maintenance and repair team. During each inspection, the team again instructs the villagers in the correct use and care of the well and its surroundings. The project provides support for repair work, but each village is also required to make a contribution in some form.
In order to ensure that it is able to not only continue to construct wells in the future, but also to maintain and repair the more than 1,500 that have been put into operation, the “Water is Life” project relies on financial support. Every donation helps people in Cameroon gain permanent access to clean drinking water.