Borehole drilling supervision in Malawi: why it is essential, not optional

Guest Blog from Mr Gift Jason Wanangwa, a Groundwater Development Officer with the Malawi Government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

New PictureGuest Blog by GIFT JASON WANANGWA


Malawi is one of the least developed countries in Africa. It has a population of more than 17 million people, 84% of whom live in rural areas and rely solely on groundwater for their daily water needs for social and economic development.

Studies of the drilling practices in Malawi by UNICEF (GoM/UNICEF 2011; GoM 2012) and borehole forensics activities done by students of the University of Strathclyde under the Climate Justice Fund-Water Futures Programme  (CJF-WFP Work Records 2017-2018) as well as MSc Hydrogeology masters research students activities into drilling practices in Malawi (Polmanteer, 2014) have all revealed some shortcomings which explained problems in rural water supply through boreholes like poor siting, low yield of boreholes, weak drilling procedures and poor water quality or mechanical failures of pumps and boreholes. This was attributed much to poor drilling supervision.

Figure 1-temp casiing
Figure 1: Drilling in session inserting a temporary casing (Photo by Gift Wanangwa).

The importance of drilling supervision

Proper drilling supervision is important because it promotes systematic observation of what is taking place during drilling, it allows measuring of hydrogeological and water quality parameters, and also allows record keeping. Proper supervision helps to generate information for decision making and lesson learning. Responsibilities of drilling supervisors can include: selection of the beneficiaries; deciding detailed location of water points to be drilled as per site; including geophysical surveys; enforcing adherence to specifications, standards, and the following of guidelines; making sure safety measures are upheld; overseeing timelines for the projects, inspection of works and checking materials used and their quantities as well as collection of hydrogeological data generated. The supervisor is also responsible for on-site modifications of the borehole design and facilitating discussions with villagers who are the beneficiaries.

Drilling of boreholes in Malawi is funded by the national government, district councils, bilateral and multilateral partners, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector.

Drilling supervision in Malawi is done by several entities working together though at varying time periods namely Consultants, government staff (the Project Office-National Water Development Programme 1 and 2, Ministry responsible for water and its regional offices), the district council staff (the District Water Development Office, Technical Team at the district council and several development committees), and also the villagers led by the Water Point Committees under the Community-Based Management System of Rural Water Supply.

Figuire 2 - cuttings
Figure 2: A driller collecting drilling cuttings for logging (Photo: Gift Wanangwa).

Legislation, manuals and standard operating procedures (SOPs)

Guidance in the supervision of drilling in the country is outlined in the revised legislation, technical manuals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) published by the government with assistance from development partners, notably the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). (see: and There is a Water Resources Act (Malawi) of 2013 (GoM, 2013), which guides in the development, use and management of water resources. It also spells out the need and responsibility for hydrogeological data management. The government technical manual and standard operating procedures are important because they explain procedures in the Malawian standards, situation and protocols. They are standard guides for both foreign and national practitioners in the drilling and water supply sector. Equally important and available are guideline standards for acceptable National water quality standards which are used alongside the World Health Organisation Standards.

There are three types of periodic supervision done in Malawi, namely: Full time Supervision, Part-Time or Milestone Supervision and also End-of-Contract Inspection. The Drilling Supervision Teams differ for these types of supervisions, and each has its advantages and challenges.

Figure 3 drilling sopped
Figure 3: Drilling stopped for some time waiting for fuel replenishment and the drilling supervisor has to record all these incidents. (Photo by Gift Wanangwa).

Full time supervision

Full time supervision is done by Consultants, District Water Office’s Water Monitoring Assistants and villagers. Consultants are well experienced and mostly engaged in big drilling projects. There are both local consultants from firms within Malawi and international consultants mostly from South Africa. However, some consultants have more expertise on surface water and are less knowledgeable about groundwater. Nevertheless they are still hired to supervise drilling projects. Sometimes, they have problems handling villagers properly. Private consultants also cost more than the government officers would.

The Water Monitoring Assistants, are a cadre of extension workers in the Ministry responsible for water affairs but based at the district level. They are good in that they play an important role in drilling oversight at district level. They are the first force to supervise any driller, they also collect data by filling the drilling supervisory sheets, and they know the villagers as they are based at village level. They are also good at mobilising the villagers and capable of undertaking pre- and post-drilling training and sensitising the villagers about water and sanitation projects. Unfortunately, most district councils or local governments face acute shortage of this cadre of extension workers. Water monitoring assistants are under the Water Supply Division and are mostly involved in Community Based Management and hence, most of them are not so knowledgeable about the technicalities of hydrogeology and have not been trained or mentored in drilling supervision. Furthermore, due to lack of resources, they may not even be able to carry out all the required supervision or go to site every day. Some drillers may sometimes prove uncontrollable in adhering to standards.

The villagers are well placed to track the drilling as they are always on site as beneficiaries of the water points being drilled. If they are given pre-drilling training to help them track properly, and have some external technical support, they are able to follow the work. However, most villagers are illiterate and their numeracy skills to documents specifications are low. More so, the villagers are not fully empowered to control the contractors and drillers, neither are they involved in project decision making.

Figure 4 quality check
Figure 4: Drilling supervisor has also to check the quality of materials contributed for civil works and all ancillary works (Photo by Gift Wanangwa).

Part-time or milestone supervision

Part-time or Milestone supervision is done mostly by a team comprising Project Office staff, representatives of the donors of the project, Ministry Responsible for Water senior officers and District Technical Teams. These will mostly visit the project, discuss project progress and matters arising followed by a tour of some work done. The meeting dates and rendezvous are prearranged. All changes required and arising issues are discussed at these meetings and site visits.

During these visits, Project Office staff have an opportunity to verify the effectiveness of their Contract Documents and what needs to be changed, technical designs and drawings revisited as well as lessons learnt for future project planning and implementation. Ministry officials also observe the adherence to government standards and guidelines as well as performance of contractors and Water Ministry staff in drilling projects. The donors of the project also observe ownership of the project by the government and beneficiaries and appreciate the challenges encountered in the implementation of the project.

Things not mentioned at these meetings are sometimes not done, except when the consultant follows up the issues. Important issues observed by Ministry senior officers may also take time to be incorporated into the manuals and SOPs during next revision of the documents. These meetings are also expensive to organise hence the periodic arrangement. Not all project sites are visited and hence some issues in unvisited sites are left unattended to.

Figure 5 final check
Figure 5: The drilling supervisor has also to see that all designs are followed and all processes of curing the constructed ancillary works are observed as per instructions (Photo by Gift Wanangwa).

End of contract inspection

End of Contract Inspection is important as it checks everything that was done, how it was done and if any changes are required before project hand-over. The performance of the new water points are checked. This is done by at least all supervisors mentioned above. Some challenges may be encountered if only the end of the contract inspection is done. It may not be easy to check borehole installation down the hole, or check borehole development or even the materials used under the borehole which in this case is already finished. Most of these problems may be found during borehole forensics using the borehole camera and it may be too late to salvage the borehole.

Post-drilling and water point management trainings are offered to beneficiaries. Sometimes, the water points start to be used even before being commissioned. At least, this way, the users can report on any problems they encounter. This is however discouraged especially if extensive water quality testing has not been done.

Figure 6 Supervisor checklist
Figure 6: Supervisor drilling data collection sheet where the supervisor fills data when on site 

Strengths and weaknesses

Some strengths registered in drilling supervision in Malawi are that the standards and guidelines are followed, with boreholes drilled to the best possible standards and hydrogeological data is collected and entered into the government database at the Ministry headquarters. This is a requirement as enshrined in the Water Resources Act (Malawi) of 2013 (GoM, 2013). The drilling industry is growing and most of all, there are skilled people involved in supervising drilling projects. The sharing of ideas, attending of symposiums and meetings to discuss drilling, as well as the AfDB Project where Water Monitoring Assistants were specially-trained in drilling practices and supervision have all contributed towards raising supervisory skills in the country.

The University of Strathclyde, under the Climate Justice Fund-Water Futures Programme funded by the Scottish Government has trained government and private contractor staff in Best Drilling Practices and Drilling Supervision ( (CJF-WFP, 2018) as well as equipping the staff soon after the training with drilling supervision gadgets like protective helmets, portable EC, pH, TDS and temperature testing kits, as well as in Borehole Forensic skills. The technical manuals and SOPs have helped in standardising and guiding the drilling industry, addressing the confusion of every donor having their own standards and designs. With the Water Resources Act (Malawi) of 2013, every practitioner is obliged to adhere to standards and guidelines.

However, some weaknesses still exist. Water Point mapping currently underway under the Climate Justice Fund-Water Futures Programme using mWater Software shows poor siting of boreholes near latrines and contamination points, vandalism of water points still high where boreholes are sited in obscure places, groundwater quality issues like salinity, hardness, and contamination possibly from pit latrines still on the high, non-functionality of water points still a problem and there are some organisations who drill boreholes without informing the necessary authorities at the district councils.

Some organisations drill boreholes without planning or costing for supervision and training. Shortage of skilled staff to best supervise drilling of boreholes is also another problem. In general, there is a lack of portable gadgets necessary for supervision like water depth dipper, portable water quality testing kits, measuring tape, stop watches, and safety measures in controlling children and even adults in rural areas is still a problem. Welfare of drilling staff also needs a lot to be done especially by private drilling contractors.


Gift Jason Wanangwa is a Groundwater Development Officer with the Malawi Government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. He works under the Groundwater Division but is stationed at the Regional Irrigation and Water Development Office – South in Blantyre, Malawi. His duties are mainly hydrogeological activities including doing geophysical surveys, supervising drilling projects for water sector partners and government projects as well as research in groundwater development and management. He is a member of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) He has also actively worked on many groundwater projects in the country with consultants and active non-governmental organisations like the University of Strathclyde, Water for People, World Vision International just to mention a few. He is awaiting graduation for an MSc in Water Resources and Supply Management from the University of Malawi’s the Polytechnic College.


  1. Work by the University of Strathclyde in Malawi is found at this website
  2. There are activities by the University of Strathclyde MSc Hydrogeology students doing research, teaching government workers and private drillers and other activities shown in videos here:
  3. Government of Malawi/UNICEF (2011); Consultancy services: Quality assurance of UNICEF drilling programmes for boreholes in Malawi-Final Report, RWS Limited; Mangochi, Malawi, as prepared by Jim R. Anscombe.
  4. Government of Malawi (2013) Water Resources Act (Malawi) of 2013; Lilongwe, Malawi; Ministry of Water Development and Irrigation
  5. Government of Malawi (2012) The Malawi irrigation, water, and sanitation sector performance report-2011; Lilongwe, Malawi; Ministry of Water Development and Irrigation.
  6. Polmanteer, R. (2014) Climate Change Resiliency through Increasing Long-Term Groundwater Resource Management: An Assessment of the need for improving Sustainable Drilling Practices and hydrogeological conceptual model of the Mwanza River Valley, Chapananga, Malawi; MSc Hydrogeology Thesis, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom.
  7. Kalin, R.M. (2014) Best Drilling Practices (Presentations and Field Excursions in Glasgow, United Kingdom and in Blantyre, Chikwawa and Lilongwe, Malawi); University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom.
  8. Many MSc Hydrogeology Research Students doing their MSc degree research on Water Issues in Malawi every year since around 2010 under the Scottish Government funded Climate Justice Fund – Water Futures Programme. The submitted research papers can be found at the University of Strathclyde Research Papers Repository.

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit to find out more

3 thoughts on “Borehole drilling supervision in Malawi: why it is essential, not optional”

  1. It’s so nice to know that so many communities are getting clean water. My daughter is considering starting a charity project of her own in our community to have a well drilled for those who aren’t able to get clean water from the city. The water monitoring assistants that the Malawi wells have gives me a great idea, as well, that my daughter should look into getting some security cameras set up so that they can watch the water and make sure nothing contaminates it after installation.

  2. Am a driller a Malawian national staying in Cape Town RSA but i have interested to come and join this industry at home can i have work opportunity as a driller??

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