by Dr Kerstin Danert, Skat Foundation
In Lagos, a city of over 17 million people, water demands are mainly being met from tapping the groundwater that lies beneath the city. Boreholes provide water directly at people’s homes or business premises. Borehole construction is being paid for by householders and businesses themselves. Water vendors, selling water in jerry cans or trucks are also prolific. Given the limited reach of the piped infrastructure, much of the water vended is likely to also originate from below ground. In fact, exploitation of the large, relatively shallow aquifers that lie below Lagos is one of the main reasons that the city can continue to grow at all.
Hand dug wells are common, but the growing phenomenon is manually drilled wells. It is a simple drilling technique that needs a small petrol pump and five operators. It is called hand turning, or seismic drilling here. It provides employment for young men, and is enabling water supplies to be constructed in small spaces at people’s homes. There could be anything from 500 to over 1,000 manual drillers in Lagos State alone. The coastal sands are ideal, and wells are drilled to depths of 30 meters; sometimes more. Alas not all drillers are meeting Nigeria’s drilling standards, including providing a sanitary seal to 6m below the ground. However, we have been encouraged by the enthusiasm and energy of the recently established Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission, who want to tackle issues such as these head on, and are undertaking discussion with vocational training institutes.
I am now in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State and some three hours drive from Lagos. Today was a chaotic, but very interesting day. Our planned visit to a drilling site some two hours north was curtailed as we travelled. Some drilling tools were stuck in the hole and drilling had to be aborted. But we were out early so had time to chase up on others. We spent the morning on a random walk to visit a rural village down a 5 km track North of Ibadan. Just took a chance and ended up visiting a poultry farm (one of seven in the vicinity). No manual drilling. Just two hand-dug wells providing an all year round water supply for countless chickens.
Our visit further along the track to the village however was another eye opener. We saw mostly old people and small children. An arthritic-ridden former driver and village representative related their water woes. A politician gave them a well. But it is only four concrete rings deep and runs dry for 4 months of the year. We saw it. A disgrace. Not even properly covered. Muddy. And only about 100 meters away from the all year supply at the poultry farm well. The village head informed us that politicians do such things for votes and shrugged his shoulders. Water is a huge problem. Long distances are even worse when people are aged and bent over double.
There were fragments of rainwater harvesting, but no proper knowledge about it. And it is unlikely that the village would pay for a manual driller, even if he could manage the terrain. The children of the people we interviewed work in Lagos though.
Free water – when it comes
Moving back towards the main road again in the next village the dwellings are larger and some are modern. The community proudly informed us that they have a tap. And so we went to visit it with the village chief. A man whose children are working in Abuja and Lagos. We admired the tap. Free water, when it comes. We were informed that it has not run for three days. It goes on and off, randomly. Can run for a couple of days, and then be off for more days. No pattern, no warning. We suspected power problems at the plant. We asked about alternative sources and he explained that people just try to store as much water as possible when the tap runs – pointing to the basin to collect the first drops should it start flowing again. Once the water stock runs out, people travel far to fetch water. Large vessels were dotted between the homes.
As we were about to leave, another man joined us to tell us about their river. Apparently they used to use it for drinking water. Even clearing bush for access. But since the poultry farms came they can no longer use it. We went to see. It stank, and one could see an oily film on the surface. They have pleaded with the owners and talked to others but to no avail. “You have to get into your car to go and fetch water” the man explained.
Still waiting for news about a drilling site to see, we continued up to the Ashejire dam. Having not yet secured a meeting with the Oyo State Water Corporation we were hopeful of some information about the city’s piped supplies. The dam was constructed in 1968, and commissioned in 1972. So we were born in the same year: a very impressive site, and with vibrant and enthusiastic staff. A team of about ten people proudly showed us around: the lab, the treatment plant, the pumps, and the electro-mechanical engineer who proudly reeled off plenty of data about volumes of water that they can produce. We followed the chattering group in their shiny minibus to visit the dam itself. All questions were answered and they were keen to join RWSN and be linked to other professionals around the world.
But perhaps their time to talk was aided by the fact that they had no power. When the power goes down, the plant shuts down – and it takes at least four hours to get water to reach through the network when it comes back on. Their pumps have been recently refurbished. The staff were buoyant about the current government. The problems, they explained, is the intermittent power and the actual piped network itself.
Political leaders do not want to put billions of naira of investment into pipes underground that nobody will see. They prefer to do roads that are above the ground,
was the explanation. Nevertheless, they are optimistic about what has happened recently with the refurbishments. Alas there was no conclusion about how many people, or what proportion of Ibadan benefits from their treated and tested water supplies. Some parts of the city do not pay for their water. But at least the staff at the dam and treatment works play their part. Politics came up in the conversation once again.
“There is money to be made in Nigeria”
It took at least 15 telephone calls, at least two hours waiting and about two hours driving to get to our drilling site. But it was worth it. Alabama is an energetic entrepreneur, and is proud to be a driller; a profession that he would like his son to go into.
I ask people why they want to go abroad. There is money to be made in Nigeria.
He has been drilling since 1990. He now has eight teams and drills between 5 and 15 boreholes per month. In one town he claims to have drilled 280 private boreholes. He specialises on the sediments and the areas peripheral to the basement. One set of tools use recycled car springs to break hard formation. His deepest well is 350 feet but 240 feet is normal. He grouts to 4 feet below ground level. Better than nothing, but not good enough.
His crew wore hard hats and boots. I took about a hundred photos and films. As in Lagos, the rhythm was five jerks followed by a quarter turn. The hard hats doubled up as showers to keep themselves cool.
And Alabama’s estimate for the number of drillers of Lagos and around? 4,000.
This blog is written as part of RWSN’s work to support UNICEF to document manual drilling experiences from around the world. You can find out more from the RWSN website and also learn about manual drilling in Chad
The final report on manual drilling in Nigeria will be published in August, with the Global Compendium on manual drilling due out later this year.