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When Drilling Makes All the Difference: Boreholes Provide Clean Water in Uganda

How a new borehole transformed a village in northern Uganda
An ACF drilling rig creating a borehole in Uganda. Photo courtesy: E. Rheinstein.

As security has gradually begun to improve over the past year, the context in northern Uganda has changed dramatically. Families have begun returning to their ancestral homes after spending more than two decades in displacement camps that held some 2.5 million people. Yet the transition home has exposed these communities to new humanitarian risks, requiring support from organizations such as Action Against Hunger.

Many of the former villages remained ghost towns while their inhabitants lived in camps, and reviving local infrastructure and basic services—access to water, stocks of food, storage facilities, sanitation infrastructure—requires time and resources the villagers can’t always provide themselves. What seed stocks will they turn to for planting? What tools will they use to prepare fallow fields? What will they eat while they await the first harvest? What became of the village’s water source?

Tapping Aquifers: a Borehole Transforms Amunga Village

Action Against Hunger specializes in such periods of transition—mobilizing resources to help families recover quickly and regain self-sufficiency. Here’s a case study of Amunga village, in Lira District, northern Uganda, where returnees’ lives were threatened when they returned home to find no water.

Community-wide improvements in water, sanitation, and hygiene require community-based solutions. This became all too apparent to Ogwang Bosco, Aporo Joseph and Nyang Alex, three young men who recently returned home to Amunga Village after spending years in Orum Camp.

The only water source in their former village had all but dried up, and collecting enough water each day for drinking, cooking, and washing took more and more of their time. This changed when Action Against Hunger provided the village with a new borehole.

Ground water emerges from aquifers at natural springs or when boreholes are drilled through bedrock: The same heavy machinery used in the mining and extraction industries is employed here to life-saving ends by extending lengths of drill pipe with rock-cutting bits deep into the ground until water is struck. The new hole is capped in concrete and fitted with a hand-pump, and a community-based Water Committee is trained and tasked with its maintenance. Properly constructed boreholes can provide clean water for thousands of individuals indefinitely, depending on the geophysics of its location and other environmental factors.

A Borehole’s Impact: The Restorative Properties of Clean Water

Ogwang Bosco, Aporo Joseph and Nyang Alex explain that the newly installed water point has eased life in the village since it is near their homes and little time is wasted in fetching water. Knowing they are drinking from a clean source is also a huge benefit, both physically and psychologically. The water point in their village has been aptly named “A Wee I Cilo,” which means “I am free of dirt,” as the villagers are now able to bathe two or three times each day.

The transformation of village life isn’t lost on the villagers of Amunga—Bosco, Joseph, and Alex remember clearly what life was like before the borehole. They value the resource they have been provided and work hard to keep it clean and functional for the health and benefit of all its members. A water collection container is clearly marked and provided by the committee responsible for maintaining the water point, and they have educated the broader community on the importance of maintaining a separate container for collecting water.

With this single investment, Action Against Hunger has set in motion a process to restore self-sufficiency for this Uganda community: the improved water source enhances community health, community involvement, and collective productivity—the very foundation of a community’s economic and social development.

Story support from Naemba Ferrus, Jennifer Organ, Alum Eunice Opio, & Komakech Denis Hardnan.

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