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  • Bill Punt


Epidemics often find their sources in the contaminated water in hand-dug wells. These wells, typically up to 30 feet deep, may reach water but, at this depth, surface run-off causes contamination. For this reason, in the early 1980s, Rotary expanded its areas of service to include clean water projects in remote areas of Africa and Asia.

An alternative to dug wells was drilled wells to reach subterranean rivers. Unfortunately, this required drilling into hard rock with a 4-inch diameter drill casing and the need for heavy material, large diesel-powered drills, fuel, and water to cool the drills. Not easy and very expensive! Additionally, this technology required large trucks on roads in remote areas that often could not support them.

I became aware of a potential solution. My research found 2.5-inch diameter drills that were used for mineral exploration in very remote areas and were capable of drilling 250 feet deep in hard rock. The drill casing could be screwed into hard rock, which made them ideal for pumping water.

Bringing water up from a depth of 250 feet required something different than a surface pump, which was only effective to a depth of about 30 feet. Deep-well pumps push the water up from the bottom of the well, but in the early 1980s, there were no records of small-bore deep-wells operating with deep-well pumps.

At a meeting of the World Community Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Kingston in 1984, I tabled a proposal for a pilot project to prove that small-bore deep-wells with deep-well pumps driven by hand were viable. Specifically, we needed to find a progressive cavity pump small enough to fit the 2.5-inch drill casing and we needed to prove that this pump could be driven by a ¼-inch stainless steel rod, 250 feet long, using a hand crank.

Our club approved the proposal and partnered with the Rotary Clubs of Utumishi and Nairobi South, Kenya. Our club’s contribution of $32,000 was matched by The Rotary Foundation, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) matched that total, making the project feasible at $128,000.

After many delays, 12 wells were drilled in the Garba Tula area of Kenya about 200 miles north of Nairobi. Garba Tula was populated by a formerly nomadic tribe consisting of roughly 5,000 people whose lives were continually threatened by epidemics. These wells provided the proof we were after!

In 1990, a letter from Father Andre who served this community, reported that 11 of the 12 wells were still operating and that epidemics had stopped. The other heroes of this project were Jim Nielson, Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University; Col. Jim Fleming who arranged air transportation; Bob Marvin, the drill master (pictured above); and Rotarian Keith Rowland (Nairobi-South).

One of the lessons learned was when we discovered that the Garba Tula community also used the wells to draw water to make soil blocks to build their dwellings when water from dug wells should have been used instead. Unfortunately, the use of the pumps for this purpose caused the pumps to wear prematurely.

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