The need for professional associations for water well drillers

This is a guest blog by RWSN Young Professional Uyoyoghene U. Traoré, geologist and freelance consultant in water and environment. This article was originally published in GeoDrilling international and is reposted with thanks. You can read the original article here.

Groundwater accounts for over 97% of the world’s fresh water with over two million people depending on it for their Survival. In Africa, it is estimated that groundwater provides over 75% of the population with a drinking water supply, and has been said to be essential in securing equitable water access for the rural and urban poor around the world. It has been established that groundwater has a major role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for drinking water. Though very important, groundwater is not properly captured in national or international monitoring. As an unseen resource, it is easily forgotten, making it undervalued and not properly managed.

As an entry point towards the progressive and effective management of groundwater, I undertook a study on the challenges of water well drillers and drillers association in six countries – Angola, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and the United State of America was carried out. I tried to understand groundwater issues within these countries from the perspective of drillers themselves. Drillers are in direct contact with the resource, and some have recognised the importance of having a drillers association.

As at the time of the study (2019) only three water well drillers association exist and were active only in Nigeria, Uganda and the USA. In the case of the others (inactive), there is an informal working group in Angola, an organised body in Burkina-Faso and Mozambique.  Where they exist, drillers associations were an entry point to support national, international and local partners in groundwater management, were able to advocate and lobby for sustainable policies and realistic contracts. They also sensitised the public on the resource and helped reduce the presence of unqualified drillers from the sector.

In the study, I identified eight main challenges for water well drillers, namely – capacity, contracts and standards, procurement, finance and payment, corruption, data, logistics, and the availability of spare parts. I also learned about the advantages and disadvantages of having an association, as well as what makes them successful or not. A lack of clarity with respect to groundwater policies, and a lack of capacity by national institutions to implement policies or engage in groundwater monitoring was apparent in four (Angola, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Nigeria) of the six countries.

So, what did the study reveal?

  • With the exception of the USA, there is a lack of capacity of drillers and national institutions in the countries studied. Drillers often lack the capacity to drill water wells in a sustainable way. In most of the cases, this is due to the absence of dedicated training institutions on groundwater issues or the inability of organised drillers association to engage in the development of its members.
  • Poor contract management, lack of transparency and corruption in procurement processes were mentioned. These have adversely affected the quality of drilled wells leading to a short lifespan of these wells. “Turn- key contracts” (Burkina Faso & Uganda), “No water no pay principle” (Mozambique & Nigeria) and “the gentleman’s agreement” (Angola) are some forms of poor contract identified. The client passes all, or most of the risk of finding water to the drillers – even in places where good groundwater resources are not easy to find.
  • Delayed payments by clients poses danger to the long-term viability of drillers’ businesses. This is a particular challenge in countries where the government is the major client (Angola, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Uganda).
  • The absence or lack of groundwater data means underestimation of prices of drilling in certain terrains as well as drilling with uncertainty. The USA and Uganda are the only two countries with some form of groundwater data.
  • Drillers associations struggle to sustain themselves on a long term due to lack of finance resulting from low membership. In Mozambique and Burkina Faso for example, some drillers still do not see the need for an association while, there is no dedicated member to run the informal working group in Angola.
  • It was noted that there is a lack of transparency in existing associations except the USA. Leadership find it difficult and costly to be accountable to members and non-members alike.
  • Except for the USA, and more recently Uganda, the associations have not been able to engage in continuous capacity building, or training programs for its members. This has been identified as mainly being a result of lack of funds.

A major concern observed is the future of groundwater. In all six countries studied, it was found that there are very few or no young professionals in the field. This indeed put the future of groundwater development at a very high risk. In addition, very few women were observed to be in the profession.

From my work, I have two sets of recommendations:

  • In the short term, it is imperative that drillers association in other countries be investigated. Prioritise the establishment of drillers associations in countries where there are none and support rekindling inactive ones. The capacity of drillers and national institutions should be strengthened – advocate for compulsory internship programs on a continuous basis. Also, develop school curriculum on water with emphasis on ground water. Create a global platform for young professionals dedicated to training, learning, including internships with local firms.
  • In the long term, there is need to create a global platform for drillers, experts and institutions working on groundwater water issues in collaboration with existing institutions to learn and share best practices. Develop in study and exchange programmes, including creating mechanisms for international internships and volunteering.

I hope, that my study will help to inspire developmental organisation, funders, national institutions and above all drillers themselves to recognise the importance of using professional drillers and to support, and collaborate with water well drillers associations.

The study was carried out by Uyoyoghene U. Traoré as a volunteer for the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) under its 2018-2023 young professional engagement strategy. The full study can be downloaded here.

Just how much do countries rely on groundwater point sources for their drinking water?

Preliminary analysis of census and national survey data from the 2019 Joint Monitoring Programme, by Dr Kerstin Danert

An important issue for those of us that think a lot about groundwater is the extent that various countries rely on it for their drinking water.

The data presented in the table below has been prepared from the 2019 data published by the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF (see Each country has an associated Country File (an excel spreadsheet) with collated data on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene use. This data is gathered from national censuses as well as household surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and many others. The country files given excel spreadsheets on the JMP website (not to mention the underlying surveys) contain a wealth of data!

The table below shows the percentage of the population that rely on groundwater point sources as their main source of drinking water for every country and territory for the most recent year for which census or survey data is available. The data is presented for urban, rural and total populations.  Groundwater point sources include protected and unprotected wells and springs, as well as tube wells and boreholes.  Countries may have slightly different nomenclature for the above terms, but these are harmonised in the country tables produced by the JMP.

It is important to note that the data only includes point sources.  Water that is bought from vendors, sold in bottles/sachets or transmitted in pipes may also originate from groundwater, but this information is not generally collated by the censuses or surveys and thus cannot be reflected.  Consequently, the actual dependency of a particular on groundwater for drinking may be considerably higher. In addition, national governments may also make calculations based on the infrastructure available and assumed number of users per source. Due to the different methods of data collection and calculation, these estimates may differ from that collected by the household survey or census.

Please note that the analysis below has not been peer-reviewed, and so if you are intending to use the data, please do check in the respective JMP country file.  You can access Country Files on: Click on map to select country, download “Country file” and open the “Water Data” tab. In case you spot any mistakes in the table below, please respond in the comments in the blog below or contact the author directly, via

Table 1 Groundwater point source as main drinking water source (% of the population classified as urban, rural and total)

Urban Rural Total
Country Census/ Survey Year Ground-water point source as main drinking water source (% of the urban pop.) Census/ Survey Year Ground-water point source as main drinking water source (% of the rural pop.) Census/ Survey Year Ground-water point source as main drinking water source (% of the total pop.)
Afghanistan 2017 57.3% 2017 71.5% 2017 68.1%
Albania 2012 6.4% 2012 14.7% 2012 10.2%
Algeria 2013 6.6% 2013 19.6% 2013 11.3%
American Samoa 2010 0.5%
Andorra 2005 6.6%
Angola 2016 17.7% 2016 43.0% 2016 26.8%
Anguilla 2009 0.7% 2009 0.7%
Antigua and Barbuda 2011 0.4%
Argentina 2013 9.1% 2010 37.7% 2010 15.0%
Armenia 2016 0.1% 2016 2.6% 2016 1.1%
Aruba 2010 1.3%
Australia 2013 0.1% 2013 1.1% 2013 0.5%
Azerbaijan 2017 0.1% 2017 12.1% 2017 5.4%
Bahamas 2010 2.9%
Bahrain 1995 1.4%
Bangladesh 2016 66.4% 2016 94.7% 2016 84.9%
Barbados 2010 0.1% 2012 0.1%
Belarus 2012 2.7% 2012 32.9% 2012 11.1%
Belize 2016 0.3% 2016 4.1% 2016 2.5%
Benin 2014 39.4% 2014 56.8% 2014 48.9%
Bhutan 2017 0.3% 2017 0.6% 2017 0.5%
Bolivia (Plurinational State of) 2017 5.0% 2017 42.2% 2017 16.5%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2012 3.6% 2012 11.4% 2012 8.9%
Botswana 2017 0.1% 2017 14.9% 2017 5.3%
Brazil 2017 0.4% 2017 8.4% 2017 1.6%
British Virgin Islands 2010 1.9%
Brunei Darussalam 2011 0.1% 2011 0.1% 2011 0.1%
Bulgaria 2001 0.4% 2001 2.7% 2001 1.1%
Burkina Faso 2017 17.1% 2017 85.6% 2017 72.9%
Burundi 2017 8.6% 2017 68.1% 2017 61.5%
Cabo Verde 2007 0.1% 2012 15.1% 2012 5.1%
Cambodia 2016 13.5% 2016 47.2% 2016 40.2%
Cameroon 2014 35.5% 2014 74.1% 2017 50.0%
Canada 2011 0.1% 2011 0.7% 2011 0.3%
Caribbean Netherlands 2001 27.3%
Cayman Islands 2010 4.9% 0.0% 2010 4.9%
Central African Republic 2010 49.1% 2010 92.1% 2010 75.4%
Chad 2015 48.0% 2015 82.4% 2015 74.6%
Chile 2017 0.6% 2017 4.0% 2017 2.4%
China 2013 7.4% 2013 43.1% 2016 22.4%
Colombia 2018 0.4% 2018 13.7% 2018 3.3%
Comoros 2012 5.1% 2012 21.3% 2012 16.2%
Congo 2015 24.9% 2015 65.7% 2015 38.3%
Cook Islands 2011 0.0%
Costa Rica 2018 0.0% 2018 0.5% 2018 0.2%
Côte d’Ivoire 2017 33.9% 2017 71.0% 2017 49.5%
Croatia 2003 3.3% 2003 18.0% 2003 20.0%
Cuba 2011 13.5% 2014 41.9% 2011 18.2%
Curaçao 2011 0.9%
Czechia 2003 1.5% 2003 7.1%
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2017 17.1% 2017 58.1% 2017 33.1%
Democratic Republic of the Congo 2014 33.0% 2014 79.4% 2014 63.5%
Djibouti 2017 0.6% 2017 55.5% 2017 10.9%
Dominica 2001 0.6% 2001 6.3% 2009 0.3%
Dominican Republic 2016 0.1% 2016 2.3% 2016 0.7%
Ecuador 2017 1.1% 2017 17.1% 2017 6.1%
Egypt 2017 0.4% 2017 2.1% 2017 1.4%
El Salvador 2017 3.0% 2017 12.3% 2017 6.6%
Equatorial Guinea 2011 44.7% 2011 51.9% 2011 48.4%
Eritrea 2010 3.4% 2010 36.0% 2010 24.6%
Estonia 2010 1.7% 2010 18.8% 2010 6.7%
Eswatini 2014 3.7% 2014 31.5% 2014 24.0%
Ethiopia 2017 5.1% 2017 62.3% 2017 52.0%
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) 2016 43.7%
Fiji 2014 1.1% 2014 13.6% 2014 7.2%
Finland 1999 1.0% 2005 5.0% 2005 1.0%
French Guiana 1999 5.0% 1999 6.0% 2015 13.5%
Gabon 2013 3.3% 2013 37.8% 2013 8.2%
Gambia 2013 14.4% 2013 60.0% 2013 32.6%
Georgia 2017 4.9% 2017 46.9% 2017 22.2%
Germany 2007 0.8% 2007 0.8% 2007 0.0%
Ghana 2017 11.3% 2017 56.7% 2017 36.0%
Greece 2001 0.2% 2001 3.8%
Grenada 1999 4.0% 1999 18.0%
Guadeloupe 2006 0.8% 2006 0.3% 2006 0.8%
Guam 2010 0.1%
Guatemala 2015 5.0% 2015 19.6% 2015 13.4%
Guinea 2016 32.8% 2016 75.3% 2016 59.0%
Guinea-Bissau 2014 41.0% 2014 78.0% 2014 61.7%
Guyana 2014 1.3% 2014 5.5% 2014 4.4%
Haiti 2017 8.1% 2017 56.5% 2017 37.5%
Honduras 2017 2.0% 2017 4.2% 2017 3.0%
Hungary 1990 5.0% 1990 28.9%
India 2016 23.8% 2016 63.7% 2016 50.5%
Indonesia 2018 35.2% 2018 66.9% 2018 49.6%
Iran (Islamic Republic of) 2015 1.8% 2015 4.6% 2015 0.8%
Iraq 2018 0.5% 2018 4.6% 2018 1.8%
Ireland 2006 0.0% 2006 0.5%
Italy 2001 3.9%
Jamaica 2014 0.0% 2014 1.2% 2014 0.6%
Jordan 2016 0.3% 2016 0.7% 2016 0.4%
Kazakhstan 2015 3.2% 2015 21.0% 2015 11.5%
Kenya 2017 21.2% 2017 54.1% 2017 46.2%
Kiribati 2014 0.0% 2014 0.0% 2014 0.0%
Kyrgyzstan 2014 1.1% 2014 11.3% 2014 8.1%
Lao People’s Democratic Republic 2017 9.0% 2017 46.0% 2017 34.7%
Latvia 2003 2.4% 2003 12.5%
Lebanon 2016 10.9%
Lesotho 2015 5.5% 2015 27.8% 2015 21.4%
Liberia 2016 58.7% 2016 74.7% 2016 65.3%
Libya 1995 35.8% 1995 26.9% 2014 19.1%
Madagascar 2016 24.5% 2016 61.6% 2016 57.6%
Malawi 2017 16.3% 2017 86.0% 2017 73.8%
Malaysia 2003 0.8% 2003 6.7%
Maldives 2014 0.1% 2014 0.2% 2017 0.5%
Mali 2018 19.5% 2018 72.3% 2018 56.2%
Marshall Islands 2017 0.2% 2017 2.5% 2017 0.6%
Martinique 1999 0.5% 2015 0.4%
Mauritania 2015 6.5% 2015 49.4% 2015 29.1%
Mayotte 0.0% 2013 2.5%
Mexico 2017 0.8% 2017 9.5% 2017 2.8%
Micronesia (Federated States of) 2010 3.6% 2010 10.7% 2010 9.1%
Mongolia 2016 12.8% 2016 52.7% 2016 25.8%
Montenegro 2013 5.1% 2013 29.2% 2013 14.1%
Montserrat 1998 2.0% 1998 100.0% 2001 0.1%
Morocco 2012 1.0% 2012 27.2% 2012 10.2%
Mozambique 2015 21.4% 2015 62.5% 2015 49.6%
Myanmar 2016 34.3% 2016 74.8% 2016 64.0%
Namibia 2016 0.6% 2016 23.4% 2016 11.8%
Nauru 2011 1.6% 2011 0.0% 2011 1.6%
Nepal 2016 41.8% 2016 46.8% 2016 44.4%
New Caledonia 2014 3.1%
Nicaragua 2014 4.4% 2014 59.9% 2016 21.4%
Niger 2017 33.9% 2017 71.0% 2017 49.5%
Nigeria 2018 45.3% 2018 73.1% 2018 60.0%
Niue 1999 20.0% 2010 0.0%
North Macedonia 2011 1.5% 2011 15.1% 2011 7.7%
Northern Mariana Islands 2000 1.3% 0.0% 2010 1.1%
Oman 2014 5.1% 2014 10.0% 2014 6.4%
Pakistan 2016 30.4% 2016 44.0% 2016 39.1%
Panama 2015 0.7% 2015 14.6% 2017 0.0%
Papua New Guinea 2017 2.8% 2017 7.5% 2017 7.1%
Paraguay 2017 2.1% 2017 9.2% 2017 4.8%
Peru 2017 1.5% 2017 11.1% 2017 3.8%
Philippines 2017 8.4% 2017 37.6% 2017 23.9%
Portugal 2001 0.1% 2001 0.7%
Puerto Rico 1995 1.8%
Republic of Korea 2015 1.0%
Republic of Moldova 2012 16.9% 2012 65.1% 2012 47.1%
Réunion 2015 0.2%
Romania 1994 11.3% 1994 81.0%
Russian Federation 2009 3.4% 2009 19.5% 2009 8.6%
Rwanda 2017 17.2% 2017 58.4% 2017 50.4%
Saint Kitts and Nevis 1999 27.0% 1999 27.0% 2007 0.3%
Saint Lucia 2012 0.5% 2012 2.0% 2012 1.6%
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1999 20.0% 2012 0.1%
Samoa 2016 2.6% 2016 5.6% 2016 5.0%
Sao Tome and Principe 2010 4.5% 2010 11.7% 2010 6.9%
Saudi Arabia 2017 0.2%
Senegal 2017 7.2% 2017 35.0% 2017 22.5%
Serbia 2014 2.4% 2014 11.7% 2014 6.2%
Sierra Leone 2017 54.7% 2017 68.9% 2017 62.6%
Sint Maarten (Dutch part) 2011 7.4%
Slovakia 2003 2.3% 2003 2.3% 2011 13.1%
Solomon Islands 2015 8.6% 2016 27.6% 2015 17.5%
Somalia 2017 9.5% 2017 60.5% 2017 34.1%
South Africa 2017 0.5% 2017 10.1% 2017 3.8%
South Sudan 2017 66.5% 2017 80.1% 2017 77.3%
Spain 2003 0.6% 2003 0.3%
Sri Lanka 2016 17.3% 2016 51.0% 2016 45.3%
Sudan 2014 2.2% 2014 13.2% 2014 9.8%
Suriname 2017 3.1% 2017 5.4% 2017 3.8%
Syrian Arab Republic 2018 4.2% 2018 11.6% 2018 8.4%
Tajikistan 2017 5.2% 2017 18.7% 2017 15.4%
Thailand 2016 1.8% 2016 6.2% 2016 4.2%
Timor-Leste 2016 20.0% 2016 33.6% 2016 29.9%
Togo 2017 36.6% 2017 61.2% 2017 51.8%
Tonga 1999 28.0% 1999 24.0% 1996 1.7%
Trinidad and Tobago 2011 0.9% 2011 1.0% 2011 0.9%
Tunisia 2015 0.5% 2015 10.8% 2015 3.7%
Turkey 2013 5.0% 2013 40.0% 2013 13.0%
Turkmenistan 2016 4.4% 2016 34.3% 2016 22.6%
Turks and Caicos Islands 1999 22.0% 1999 40.0% 2012 1.7%
Tuvalu 2007 1.7% 2007 0.5% 2007 1.1%
Uganda 2017 35.8% 2017 79.6% 2017 71.9%
Ukraine 2018 11.5% 2018 61.2% 2018 27.8%
United Arab Emirates 2003 0.2% 2018 0.1%
United Republic of Tanzania 2017 19.4% 2017 50.5% 2017 41.2%
United States of America 2015 3.0% 2015 45.2% 2015 11.1%
Uruguay 2017 0.0% 2017 3.1% 2017 0.2%
Uzbekistan 2015 6.9% 2015 22.7% 2015 14.2%
Vanuatu 2016 1.6% 2016 4.8% 2016 4.0%
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 2011 4.3% 2011 25.6% 2011 6.8%
Viet Nam 2016 19.5% 2016 57.2% 2016 45.2%
West Bank and Gaza Strip 2017 1.2% 2017 3.2% 2017 1.5%
Yemen 2013 2.3% 2013 43.1% 2013 31.6%
Zambia 2015 26.7% 2015 76.8% 2015 55.8%
Zimbabwe 2017 11.1% 2017 77.5% 2017 57.0%

Photo:  Groundwater provides over 80% of the rural population with its main source of drinking water in South Sudan. Photo taken in 2014 in Northern Bahr el Ghazal by Kerstin Danert.




Seawater intrusion – a challenge for the 21st century

This is a guest blog by Ramon Brentführer, which was originally published in GeoDrilling International. You can read the original article here.

Coastal zones have always formed focal points for human settlement and economic activity. Globally, some 37% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast and two-thirds of the world’s cities are here with an extraordinary population growth. Water demand is rising and this is especially the case for coastal zones. Whereas China is considered to be the hotspot of this development with a projected population of about 200 million inhabitants in low elevation areas in 2030, the coastal area of India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam also experience strong population growth. Furthermore, the population growth rates in Africa are estimated to be the highest worldwide, especially in countries of Western Africa. Moreover, changing lifestyles, agricultural expansion and economic development boost the demand for water in coastal areas. The growing need for water is a good business opportunity for drilling companies that drill wells for domestic, agricultural or industrial customers.

However, heavy groundwater abstraction in coastal zone is prone to problems: The vicinity of the water resources to the ocean represents a risk of salinization. When freshwater is abstracted from a well close to the coastline, seawater might intrude into the aquifer. The new publication “Groundwater Management in Coastal Zones” gives practitioners a guideline to evaluate risks and a scope for action in such sensible hydrogeological conditions and the dynamic physical and social environment of coastal zones.


Seawater intrusion is not a future scenario – it is already reality in several regions worldwide. In Tianjin, one of the most rapidly developing and water scarcest regions in China, already 400 000 people were affected by salinity problems and 8000 irrigation wells were shut down. Some farmers continued to use groundwater for irrigation, which resulted in soil salinization and a reduction of farm yields by up to 60%. Dar es Salaam is one of Africa’s fastest growing urban centers. The city with currently 4.1 million inhabitants, is expected to reach more than 10 million inhabitants by 2030. Only half of the population is served with piped water. The remainder of the population, mostly living in informal and low-income settlements obtains its water from up to 10 000 unauthorized boreholes from the shallow aquifer under the city. This has caused seawater intrusion where chloride concentrations exceed the WHO drinking water standard of 250 mg/l. On the Balearic Island of Mallorca, the tourism industry has grown extensively with almost 10 million visitors in the year 2015, which is more than 10 times its number of residents. The high water demand in the dry summer month and the high permeability of the aquifers caused seawater intrusion. The list of cases for seawater intrusion is long and the reasons and drivers for seawater intrusion are divers and often interconnected.

Therefore, a sustainable groundwater management in a coastal zone is difficult but not impossible. A crucial pre-condition is the good understanding of the groundwater system, which requires a well-designed monitoring network. Experiences from different regions in the world have shown that there is an inadequate monitoring and lack of groundwater information. This includes static data, like aquifer properties, but also dynamic data like groundwater recharge and abstraction rates. A well-designed monitoring system and database form a further prerequisite for the enforcement of regulatory instruments like well licensing and abstraction permits. Another condition for a sustainable groundwater management is good governance. Groundwater governance is negotiated (formally or informally) between various actors and embedded in regional and local power relations. Therefore, the information about groundwater´s role in a regions economic development, cross-sectoral coordination and legislative enforcement is necessary to create good governance. Traditional command-and control-approaches generally fail to solve complex groundwater issues such as over-extraction. Consequently, integral and participatory approaches constitute the state-of-the-art in groundwater management. Therefore all relevant stakeholders, like water users, public administration, political groups, and financing institutions as well as scientific institutions and the private sector, should participate in the decision making process.

Different management approaches and solutions have been developed to tackle the challenge of a sustainable groundwater management. In South Downs in England or on the Pacific Island of Kiribati an optimized abstraction strategy prevents elevated groundwater salinity by monitoring and a limitation of the abstraction to available resources. An innovative approach for demand control measures has been tested in Oman, where the pumps of agricultural groundwater users were equipped with prepaid metering system. The principal aim should always be, to keep the demand for water as low as possible. Alternative complementary water resources like treated wastewater or desalination are emerging technologies . In some cases, the economic development of megacities has become so immense that water has to be transferred from other basins like in the city of Tianjin in China. Additional engineering approaches are physical or hydraulic barriers. In Los Angeles, treated wastewater is induced into coastal-near boreholes to create a hydraulic pressure .and hinder seawater to intrude into the aquifer.The application of these approaches depends very much on the local physical and social conditions but should be embedded in the two already mentioned preconditions: understanding of the groundwater system and good groundwater governance with an efficient and strong institutional framework. The limited capacity of groundwater systems to meet water demand needs a rethinking of water supply, which should be based on innovative solutions and a diversification of water sources. Water availability should be a guiding principle in economic development and spatial planning, and the focus should be not only be on direct human needs but also on the health of ecosystems. This balancing act will be a delicate one in many coastal regions, but it will have to be faced in order to meet the challenges brought by the rapid changes of the 21st century.

About the author

Ramon Brentführer is policy advisor for groundwater management in development cooperation at the Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources. He is a geologist and holds a master’s degree in integrated water resources management. Ramon is a co-author of the publication “Groundwater Management in Coastal Zones”.


Integrity risks in professional borehole drilling: preventing corruption paves the way to sustainable infrastructure

This is a guest RWSN blog by Justine Haag and Marian Ryan of the Water Integrity Network. 

Integrity risks can be high in professional borehole drilling projects, particularly the risk of corruption, but too often such risks are brushed over or not even acknowledged. Some of these risks have been discussed in previous blog posts. This blog discusses in more detail some of the reasons underlying the importance of addressing corruption in professional borehole drilling.

Corruption contributes to poor delivery of groundwater development projects and is a factor of the failure of  15–30% of newly built wells within one year of construction (UNICEF/Skat 2016).

The good news is that by acknowledging and addressing integrity risks from the earliest project stages, WASH managers in both government and NGOs can take steps to prevent these risks and ensure sustainable infrastructure.

Let’s be real: corruption adds up

Across the world, a great deal of money goes into the drilling of boreholes, At the local level, while it might appear at first glance that the money lost to corruption on small borehole drilling projects in rural or remote locations is limited, even insignificant, the impacts are certainly not. Corruption results not only in wasted money, but, all too often, in sub-standard delivery of projects. This, in turn, results in downstream social, economic and environmental impacts.

From a purely financial perspective, corruption in groundwater development projects may result in inflated costs which undermine the financial sustainability of the project. Equally, corruption in decision-making processes may result in technical choices that ignore community needs, disregarding the local socio-cultural or economic context.

It may also mean that already-limited funds are not used where they are most needed. In many cases corruption means those with power and influence can pay to get improved services, while the most vulnerable are left behind.

When local users don’t see the promised results or services from their duty bearers, mistrust may grow. This can complicate other interventions in the water and sanitation sectors. Poor service delivery may also mean that communities resort to informal systems which may offer lesser guarantees in terms of quality and safety.

Corruption in borehole drilling projects also undermines health and security. Private operators who benefit from favoritism may not be subject to regulations and oversight, resulting in poor-functioning and ultimately decaying, unsustainable infrastructure and water systems.

Ultimately, corruption can threaten food, water, and energy security, greatly impacting the poorest residents.

All project phases are vulnerable to corruption

Corruption can take place at a number of points in the project lifecycle.

The tendering process is well known for posing a high risk of corruption: project owners may demand or receive bribes for awarding bids. They may exclude bids for spurious reasons in order to favour particular bidders. Bidders may organize as cartels, manipulate prices, or block smaller bidders through intimidation. A previous blog post examined how these practices serve to deter experienced professional consultants and drilling contractors from the bidding process, threatening the quality and sustainability of project infrastructure.

But corruption risks exist throughout the project life-cycle:

  • Regulatory environment: Corruption can weaken the rules of the tendering process, and weaken sanctions for misconduct. Corruption in licensing can also improperly restrict who can drill and where. Corruption can also result in biases in who water is allocated to.
  • Planning: Corruption at the planning level may result in services being provided to certain groups and not to others.
  • Financial management: Corruption here can take the shape of falsified accounts in local budgets, or funds which are embezzled or allocated to “ghost” drilling sites or the villages of family or friends.
  • Project design: Corruption in project design can take the form of design specifications being rigged to favor certain companies, such as those with higher-capacity rigs.
  • Construction: Corruption in the construction phase can result in poor-quality work and/or the use of poor quality materials, the bribing of officials to ignore it, and fraudulent invoicing and documentation.
  • Post-construction: the post-construction operation and maintenance phase is critical in the delivery of sustainable and effective services. Corruption in the operation and maintenance of groundwater systems can, for example, include nepotism in the appointment of staff, and the appointment of poorly qualified consultants and contractors. Lack of community input into the well’s operation can allow such corruption to flourish.

Promoting integrity benefits the community – and all stakeholders

It is possible to prevent these dangers from taking hold by building barriers to corruption throughout the project life cycle and by promoting integrity and planning ahead to close gaps where corruption can arise.

Promoting integrity from the start adds value by fostering transparency, accountability, and participation among the project’s stakeholders. Just as corruption has a wide impact, promoting integrity and anti-corruption can support each stakeholder’s efforts across the value chain. When we anticipate and avoid corruption risks, we reduce the likelihood of failure of wells and water points, decaying infrastructure, and disrupted water services.

Where can I start?

Project owners and WASH managers in government institutions or NGOs can take advantage of existing tools to promote integrity and prevent corruption to help ensure successful, professional borehole drilling projects which result in sustainable infrastructure and benefit local communities.

RWSN’s Code of Practice for Cost Effective Boreholes emphasizes the role of greater professionalism in ensuring that projects achieve optimum value for money invested over the long term. The UNICEF Guidance Note on Professional Water Well Drilling is a valuable resource for following professional standards in borehole drilling, including costing, procurement and contracting, siting of wells, and supervision of water well drilling.

Key first steps:

  • Establish procedures for key risk areas like procurement and accounting, and make sure procedures are followed by providing training and support to all stakeholders (such as authorities, bidders, regulators, project monitors, utility accounting staff).
  • Clarify budgets and responsibilities, and ensure this information is easily available to the public.
  • Set up monitoring processes, for tendering, construction, and O&M. Social monitoring, including local users or stakeholders, can be particularly helpful and ensure more independence in the process.
  • Ensure institutional responsibility for long-term operations or properly functioning infrastructure over the entire lifecycle.
  • Consult water users and water-user associations in decision-making.


More tools:

Integrity pact : The Integrity Pacts help to ensure that contracting parties in a water project abstain from offering, accepting, or demanding bribes; monitor adherence to the contract and compliance with procurement legislation; and enable the placement of sanctions on any parties breaching the pact.

Integrity, Quality, and Compliance for Project Managers : This set of simple project management tools and templates helps improve project management and address common integrity issues from planning through operations, specifically in water-related programmes.

About the authors

Justine Haag coordinates WIN’s West Africa Programme and is in charge of the Capacity Development portfolio, ensuring the mainstreaming of water integrity tools and methodologies in the water sector at global, national, and local levels. She has over 10 years of international experience with water practitioners, working mainly on WASH and IWRM initiatives carried out with multilateral and bilateral aid organizations. She is keen to support participatory processes with a broad range of actors, following her conviction that institutional stakeholders and end users have common values and can reach consensus.

Marian Ryan is a freelance writer and editor specialized in health, international development, and water integrity. She collaborates regularly with the Water Integrity Network to write about and promote integrity Tools.

Photo credit: Joost Butenop, WIN photo competition 2009. Uncontrolled diversion of water from surrounding villages, Western Pakistan.Joost_Butenop

The rise of the off-grid city?

Adrian Healy reports on the findings of research undertaken in Lagos on the proliferation of domestic boreholes. This article was originally published in GeoDrilling International, and can be read here.

The conventional model of urban development focuses on centralised water service provision, where the state ensures a supply of water through storage and treatment plants and a grid of interconnected pipelines. Yet in many of our fastest growing cities, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia, this model is being turned on its head. Here, households, and business users, are increasingly turning to an ‘off-grid’ model, where they take responsibility for their own water supply. Nowhere is this more true than in the thriving megalopolis of Lagos in Nigeria, which serves as an example to practitioners around the world.

The public supply of water is estimated to reach no more than one in ten households living in Lagos State and, with a rapidly rising population, that proportion is changing every day. Despite their best efforts, the city authorities struggle to keep up with the pace of change, hampered further by an ageing infrastructure. In the absence of a reliable and convenient supply of water, it is perhaps little wonder that those who are able to secure their own water supplies do so. The result is a proliferation of domestic boreholes, as households seek to tap the accessible groundwater reserves beneath their feet. Whilst the actual number of domestic boreholes is unknown the possible numbers are staggering. Lagos State Water Corporation suggests that there may be anything up to 200,000 such boreholes in the State. Separately, a 2017 survey of 539 households living in Lagos State found that 51% reported owning their own borehole, with a further 36% reported that they shared a private borehole with other families[1].

The rise in the numbers of domestic boreholes is typically explained as a failure of the government to supply water to households. The public network often does not reach new housing developments and, where it does reach, failures of supply are commonplace. What is less often remarked on is the role played by a thriving drilling industry, fuelled by innovation and new entrants. Certainly, the development of new technologies, often imported from the oil industry or from abroad, has played a major role in driving the establishment of the borehole-drilling industry in Lagos. As costs of entry have fallen, increasing numbers of new companies have started up, offering cheap construction methods which are affordable by more and more households. Together, these factors are driving the evolution of a city that relies on off-grid water infrastructures.

This rise of the off-grid city has, in many ways, enabled the continuous expansion of Lagos as a major economic centre. For those who can afford their own borehole it has also delivered peace of mind as well as health and economic benefits, at least in the short-term. Questions though are now being asked as to the longer-term implications of this, particularly by the more professional members of the drilling and groundwater community. They point to the rise of poorly constructed boreholes as prices and drilling standards fall. They worry that this may lead to widespread contamination of the groundwater, whilst also reporting falling water tables in many areas, leading to fears of over-abstraction and the potential for saline intrusion.

Understanding whether these worries are well-founded is hampered by the lack of any system for monitoring either the quality or the amount of water being abstracted from the aquifers. State Government proposals to require owners of domestic boreholes to register these have foundered on the fear that this will be a front for the taxing of private water supplies. At the same time, our research indicates that the broader population is relaxed about the upward trend in boreholes, regarding the supply of groundwater as infinite (Figure 1). However, attitudes towards the quality of that water are more mixed, with around half concerned for the future. Evidence as to whether these beliefs are well-placed is currently lacking and requires longer-term data collection, particularly in terms of the amount of ground water available. Our research into levels of e-coli found in 40 groundwater sources demonstrates that residents’ caution about quality is well-founded (Figure 2). However, again, longer term monitoring is required if we are to better understand the risks of contamination over time.

Figure 1: Residents’ perceptions of groundwater exploitation in Lagos


Figure 2



In Lagos, as in many other cities, the rise of the off-grid city is due to a mix of social, economic, political and hydrogeological factors. Attempts to overcome the water gap though public provision alone are struggling with the sheer scale of investment required and speed of change in population. The rise of private provision of water supplies has fuelled the growth of the city and, in turn, has been fuelled by a rising tide of prosperity. Yet there are real concerns that the sheer proliferation of boreholes and unregulated abstraction may be storing up problems for the future. So what are the answers? Certification and licensing approaches will certainly help, but only if there is both the will and means to enforce them. Improving knowledge and awareness through education and training, both of the wider public and amongst new contractors, will also help. In the short term it may be that we need to find new mechanisms to monitor the health of our aquifers if we are not to encounter longer-term crises. Drilling contractors can be at the forefront of this exercise, helping to ensure the resilience and durability of the off-grid city.


Dr. Adrian Healy, is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University. His research focuses on themes of urban resilience to shocks and hazards. He gratefully acknowledges the support of all his colleagues involved in the RIGSS project, particularly Prof. Moshood Tijani (University of Ibadan), Prof. Ibrahim Goni (University of Maiduguri) and the British Geological Survey. Financial support was provided by NERC-GCRF ‘Building Resilience’ grant (NE/P01545X/1). Further information on the issues of domestic borehole development in Nigeria can be found here.

Figure 2 is reproduced with thanks to Dr. Kirsty Upton and the British Geological Survey, who prepared the original version.




Attracting the best: Why some experienced consultants and drilling contractors are no longer willing to work for district local government

This is the third in a series of four blogs entitled Professional Borehole Drilling: Learning from Uganda written by Elisabeth Liddle, and a RWSN webinar in 2019 about professional borehole drilling. It draws on research in Uganda by Liddle and Fenner (2018). We welcome your thoughts in reply to this blog below.

Several recent reports have raised concerns over the quality of the boreholes that are being sited and constructed in rural sub-Saharan Africa (UNICEF/Skat, 2016, Bonsor et al., 2015; Anscombe, 2011; Sloots, 2010). If high-quality boreholes are to be sited and constructed, skilled experienced personnel are needed to conduct this work. Recent research in Uganda, highlights that a number of the most experienced consultants and drilling contractors in Uganda (those who have been in business for fifteen – twenty years) are no longer willing to bid for district local government contracts (Liddle and Fenner, 2018). This is concerning, given that district local government projects accounted for 68% of new deep boreholes drilled in the financial year 2016/17 (MWE, 2017).

In this blog I outline why these consultants and drilling contractors are no longer willing to work for districts.

1. Low prices


A number of the consultants and drilling contractors interviewed are simply dissatisfied with the prices that district local governments are willing to pay compared to that of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The consultants interviewed, for example, stated that districts are typically willing to pay UGX 1 million – UGX 2 million (US $276 – $552[1]) for siting and supervision, while NGOs are typically willing to pay UGX 2.5 million – UGX 3.5 million (US $691 – $967) for the same work. The price districts are willing to pay is reportedly not realistic, and as a result, these consultants would have to take shortcuts in their work. The same issues were reported among the drillers who are no longer willing to work for the district local governments. These consultants and drillers are not willing to undertake sub-standard water points for communities, take shortcuts in their work, nor tarnish the reputation of their companies.

2. Misuse of ‘lump sum, no-water-no-pay’ payment terms


As explained in blog “Turnkey contracts for borehole siting and drilling”, drilling under a turnkey contract was found to be common during this research: 26 of the implementing agencies interviewed in Uganda (n = 29), for example, were procuring the private sector for the implementation work, 19 of whom were using turnkey contracts for the siting and drilling work and paying the driller via lump sum, no-water-no-pay payment terms. Typically, under these combined ‘lump sum, no-water-no-pay’ payment terms, if a borehole is unsuccessful (is dry or low-yielding), the driller is not paid. If the borehole is successful, the driller should be paid the full lump sum price, regardless of the costs incurred on-site. A number of districts, however, are deviating from lump sum, no-water-no-pay payment term norms. Instead of paying the full lump sum as they should do, they are only paying for the actual work done and materials used (known as BoQ payment or admeasurement payment in Uganda). While this may be specified in the driller’s contract, it is concerning given that the whole premise behind lump sum no-water-no-pay payment terms is that, while drillers will lose money on unsuccessful boreholes, they will be able to recover these costs from the full lump sums they are paid for the successful boreholes. Without full lump sum payment, drillers are unable to their losses..

3. Bribes during the bidding process


Demands for bribes are reportedly common when bidding for district local government contracts. When a bribe is demanded, consultants and drillers struggle to account for this cost: if they account for this in their quote, their quote will be too high, thus, they will not win the contract. If, however, they do not account for the price of the bribe in their quote, the consultant or driller will then need to recover this cost at some stage, usually through taking shortcuts on-site. If consultants and drillers do not want to take shortcuts in their work they will not bid.

4. Late payment


Receiving the full payment from districts for completed works can be challenging, with several drilling contractors reporting that in some cases, they had to wait over a year to receive their full payment. This makes business difficult; it is much easier to only work for NGOs who are known for paying on time.

The following quotes help to exemplify the above issues:

“But I tell you, for the last few years I have not bided for a district job because the bidding process is just so silly. You know, they will already know who is going to win the contract before they even advertise…And the terms and conditions in the contract are very unfavourable to the driller… So I have not drilled for the district for the last five years as there is no guarantee that they will pay us, this is not a viable business model for us…They only pay on time 50% of the time. Even when the borehole is successful, they will say, oh we don’t have any money, we’ll have to pay in next quarter. Sometimes this has gone on for a whole year. It was with a district that it took 14 months for me to be paid once… The guarantee of receiving payment is frustrating” (Drilling Contractor).

“I strongly believe bidding is just a procedure for most projects. In most cases the districts are giving contracts after they [the bidder] has paid them for the contract. So, say it is a contract for 100 million, they will want 20 million during bidding. This problem is with district, not NGOs, not the ministry… So I have stopped drilling for districts, it was too expensive” (Drilling Contractor).

“I don’t like working for the district. To be honest they are simply corrupt. It is very hard to get a contract from them, you’ve often got to bribe to simply get the contract. They’ll always ask for extra money. It is disturbing. If you don’t agree to pay them, they will find a way of explaining why you did not get the contract” (Consultant).

Districts are now beginning to notice this issue as well, as explained by one district water officer below:

“So many of them [drillers] are so business orientated that even during the time of bidding they under quote so they can win the contract…now because of that they have made serious drillers pull out of district work as they cannot win government contracts. Most of the serious drillers are now dealing with NGOs because they know the procurement process is much more transparent and they will be able to get the money that they need to do a good job. But for local government, they cannot. So we have lost some really good drillers because of this, because they cannot compete and most times most local government want to select the lowest bidder… So we have a big challenge here because we don’t want government to lose money by selecting the more expensive driller but this means the really high quality ones have left district work” (District Water Office).

These quotes highlight the long-term consequences for district local governments who are known for engaging in practices such as paying low prices, offering unfavourable payment terms, soliciting bribes, and making late payments. Finding solutions to these problems is essential to ensure that experienced consultants and drilling contractors are willing to support district work going forward.

What do you think?

So what do you think? Do you have experiences of unrealistically low prices (or the opposite), unfavourable payment terms, bribery in the procurement process or late payments. Or can you share any particularly promising practices with us? You can respond below by posting in the reply below, or you can join the live webinar on the 14th of May (register here).


Anscombe, J.R. (2011). Quality assurance of UNICEF drilling programmes for boreholes in Malawi. Lilongwe, Malawi: Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Development, Government of Malawi, Available from

Bonsor, H.C., Oates, N., Chilton, P.J., Carter, R.C., Casey, V., MacDonald, A.M., Etti, B., Nekesa, J., Musinguzi, F., Okubal, P., Alupo, G., Calow, R., Wilson, P., Tumuntungire, M., and Bennie, M. (2015). A Hidden Crisis: Strengthening the evidence base on the current failure of rural groundwater supplies, 38th WEDC International Conference, Loughborough University, UK, 2014, Available from

Liddle, E.S. and Fenner, R.A. (2018). Review of handpump-borehole implementation in Uganda. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/18/002).

MWE (2017) Sector Performance Report 2017, Ministry of Water and Environment, Government of Uganda, Available from

Sloots, R. (2010). Assessment of groundwater investigations and borehole drilling capacity in Uganda. Kampala, Uganda: Ministry of Water and Environment, Government of Uganda, and UNICEF, Available from

UNICEF/Skat (2016). Professional water well drilling: A UNICEF guidance note. St Gallen, Switzerland: Skat and UNICEF, Available from

[1] May 2017 exchange rate.


photo #1: “Bidding process poster on display in a District Procurement Office” (Source: Elisabeth Liddle).


This work is part of the Hidden Crisis project within the UPGro research programme – co-funded by NERC, DFID, and ESRC.

The fieldwork undertaken for this report is part of the authors PhD research at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor Richard Fenner. This fieldwork was funded by the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund and UPGro: Hidden Crisis.

Thank you to those of you from Makerere University and WaterAid Uganda who provided logistical and field support while I was conducting the interviews for this report (especially Dr Michael Owor, Felece Katusiime, and Joseph Okullo from Makerere University and Gloria Berochan from WaterAid Uganda). Thank you also to all of the respondents for being eager and willing to participate in this research.

Understanding the invisible: Uganda’s efforts to increase access to detailed groundwater data

This is the second in a series of four blogs entitled Professional Borehole Drilling: Learning from Uganda written by Elisabeth Liddle, and a RWSN webinar in 2019 about professional borehole drilling. It draws on research in Uganda by Liddle and Fenner (2018). We welcome your thoughts in reply to this blog below. [Note: The original blog was revised on 03 April 2019 to correct an inaccurate representation of the situation].

While access to improved water sources has steadily increased across rural sub-Saharan Africa, several studies have raised concerns over the extent to which these sources are able to provide safe and adequate quantities of water over the long term (Foster et al., 2018; Kebede et al., 2017; Owor et al., 2017; Adank et al., 2014). Borehole design and siting are essential to ensure that the subsequent water point will continue to provide safe and adequate quantities of water. Access to detailed and accurate groundwater information can greatly aid siting and borehole design (UNICEF/Skat, 2016; Carter et al., 2014).

Skat Foundation and UNICEF have been key advocates for increasing access to detailed groundwater data including the recent guidance note which pointed out that ‘groundwater information’ is essential when seeking to improve the quality of borehole implementation in low- and middle-income countries (see Figure 1; UNICEF/Skat, 2016). In this blog I provide some insights into the ways in which Uganda has sought to increase access to groundwater data is recent years.




Fig. 1: Six areas of engagement for increasing drilling professionalism (Skat/UNICEF, 2016).

Groundwater resource mapping in Uganda

Significant steps have been taken in recent years to increase access to detailed groundwater data in Uganda. Much of this began in 2000 when the Directorate of Water Resources and Management (DWRM) within the Ministry of Water and the Environment (MWE) began a nationwide groundwater mapping project. Using data sourced from the borehole completion reports that drilling contractors are required to submit every quarter, DWRM has developed are series of maps for each district. These include:

  1. Water source location map, underlain by a geology map.
  2. Recommended water source technology map (technology recommendation is based on main water strike depth and yield information).
  3. Hydrogeological condition map – includes 4 sub-maps:
    • inferred first water strike depth[1],
    • inferred main water strike depth[2],
    • inferred thickness of overburden[3], and
    • inferred static water level depth[4].
  4. Groundwater quality map: highlights areas where water quality is expected to be problematic.
  5. Groundwater potential – Drilling success rate map: combines expected yield success rate[5] coupled with expected water quality conditions.

Tindimugaya (2004) explains these maps in greater detail, along with the ways in which such maps can help the implementation process. An example of these maps for Kibaale district is available on the MWE’s website.

This mapping work is ongoing, however, by May 2017 DWRM had mapped 85% of Uganda’s districts. The magnitude of these maps and the level of detail they capture is remarkable. These maps have become a great asset for district local governments, non-governmental organisations, and others responsible for water point siting and construction.

Ongoing challenges

While Uganda has made remarkable progress in recent years with their groundwater mapping efforts, there have been several challenges along the way (Liddle and Fenner, 2018), mostly related to data accuracy. When interviewing those in Uganda for this research, there were reports that in some (but not all) cases, inaccurate data is submitted. When looking at why inaccurate data is sometimes submitted, two key issues were noted:

  1. There often isn’t a qualified consultant on site full-time for drilling supervision. While it is the drilling contractor’s responsibility to have a member of staff recording the drilling log, an independent supervisor should also keep a log and check the driller’s log for accuracy before this is submitted to DWRM. Without full-time supervision, however, this cannot happen. Furthermore, even with full-time supervision, if the supervisor is not a hydrogeologist, it is unlikely that they will be keeping accurate and detailed logs.
  2. The lump sum no-water-no-pay payment terms via which Ugandan drillers are often paid (see blog “Turnkey contracts for borehole siting and drilling”). When these contract terms are used, to be paid, drillers need to prove that they have drilled a successful borehole; as a result, there were reports of drillers exaggerating a given borehole’s yield in order to be paid. Skewing data in this way is concerning, as not only will these boreholes struggle to provide adequate quantities of water post-construction, but this high-yield data is then entered into the drilling log database and used to produce the hydrogeological maps. Increasing the quality of drilling supervision and ensuring data is not skewed in this way is essential if the accuracy of DWRM’s maps is to increase going forward.

Overall, Uganda has made remarkable progress over the past two decades in increasing the level of groundwater information available in-country. There are very few examples in the African continent comparable to what Uganda has achieved! As noted above, the resultant maps have become a great asset for district local governments, non-governmental organisations, and others responsible for water point siting and construction.

Increasing the accuracy of borehole completion reports is an essential next steps for Uganda. Furthermore, other countries should be aware of these challenges as they embark on their own mapping exercises and ensure necessary measures are in place to prevent these problems in their own contexts.

What do you think?

So what do you think? Do you have experiences of collecting and collating groundwater data, or using groundwater maps? Is this something that should be started in your country? You can respond below by posting in the reply below, or you can join the live webinar on the 14th of May (register here).

[1]‘Expected first water strike depth’ = the depth at which a driller is likely to first encounter groundwater. In most cases the driller will need to continue drilling past this point if the borehole is to be able to provide sufficient quantities of water for users.

[2] ‘Expected main water strike depth’ = the depth at which a driller is likely to find the main aquifer that will be able to provide sufficient quantities of water for users.

[3] Overburden refers to the unconsolidated material that overlays the bedrock. The ‘expected overburden thickness’ map highlights the expected depth of this unconsolidated material across Uganda.

[4] ‘Expected static water level’ = the expected groundwater depth without any pumping disturbance.

[5] ‘Yield success’ refers to a borehole being able to sustain a pumping rate of 500 litres/hour. If a borehole can sustain this pumping rate, it is considered successful in regards to yield.


Adank, M., Kumasi, T.C., Chimbar, T.L., Atengdem, J., Agbemor, B.D., Dickinson, N., and Abbey, E. (2014). The state of handpump water services in Ghana: Findings from three districts, 37th WEDC International Conference, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014, Available from

Carter, R., Chilton, J., Danert, K. & Olschewski, A. (2014) Siting of Drilled Water Wells – A Guide for Project Managers. RWSN Publication 2014-11 , RWSN , St Gallen, Switzerland, Available from

Foster, T., Willetts, J., Lane, M. Thomson, P. Katuva, J., and Hope, R. (2018). Risk factors associated with rural water supply failure: A 30-year retrospective study of handpumps on the south coast of Kenya. Science of the Total Environment,, 626, 156-164, Available from

Kebede, S., MacDonald, A.M., Bonsor, H.C, Dessie, N., Yehualaeshet, T., Wolde, G., Wilson, P., Whaley, L., and Lark, R.M. (2017). UPGro Hidden Crisis Research Consortium: unravelling past failures for future success in Rural Water Supply. Survey 1 Results, Country Report Ethiopia. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/17/024), Available from

Liddle, E.S. and Fenner, R.A. (2018). Review of handpump-borehole implementation in Uganda. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/18/002), Available from

Owor, M., MacDonald, A.M., Bonsor, H.C., Okullo, J., Katusiime, F., Alupo, G., Berochan, G., Tumusiime, C., Lapworth, D., Whaley, L., and Lark, R.M. (2017). UPGro Hidden Crisis Research Consortium. Survey 1 Country Report, Uganda. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/17/029), Available from

Tindimugaya, C. (2004). Groundwater mapping and its implications for rural water supply coverage in Uganda. 30th WEDC International Conference, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 2004. Available from

UNICEF/Skat (2016). Professional water well drilling: A UNICEF guidance note. St Gallen, Switzerland: Skat and UNICEF. Available from


This work is part of the Hidden Crisis project within the UPGro research programme – co-funded by NERC, DFID, and ESRC.

The fieldwork undertaken for this report is part of the authors PhD research at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor Richard Fenner. This fieldwork was funded by the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund and UPGro: Hidden Crisis.

Thank you to those of you from Makerere University and WaterAid Uganda who provided logistical and field support while I was conducting the interviews for this report (especially Dr Michael Owor, Felece Katusiime, and Joseph Okullo from Makerere University and Gloria Berochan from WaterAid Uganda). Thank you also to all of the respondents for being eager and willing to participate in this research.

Photo: “Groundwater Supply Technology Options map on display in the Kayunga District Water Office” (Source: Elisabeth Liddle).

Turnkey contracts for borehole siting and drilling

This is the first in a series of four blogs entitled Professional Borehole Drilling: Learning from Uganda written by Elisabeth Liddle, and a RWSN webinar in 2019 about professional borehole drilling. It draws on research in Uganda by Liddle and Fenner (2018). We welcome your thoughts in reply to this blog below.

Drilling under a ‘turnkey contract’ has become increasingly common across sub-Saharan Africa. Recent research in Uganda by Liddle and Fenner (2018) found turnkey contracts to be the most common contract type when the private sector provides new rural handpump-boreholes, although this has not always been the case. In this blog we provide an overview of what turkey contracts are, why they are being used in Uganda, and the benefits and challenges associated with their use in Uganda.

What is a turnkey contract they and why are they being used in Uganda?

Under a turnkey contract a drilling contractor is responsible for both the siting and the drilling/installation work. Turnkey contracts are paid via ‘lump sum no-water-no-pay’ payment terms. If the borehole is successful, the driller will be paid the full lump sum price, regardless of the costs incurred on-site. If, however, the borehole is unsuccessful (dry or low-yielding), the driller will not be paid at all.

Turnkey contracts rose to prominence in Uganda in the mid-2000s as implementing agencies (District Local Governments and Non-Governmental Organisations) became increasingly frustrated with the number of unsuccessful boreholes that were being drilled when consultants were conducting the siting work. Because the consultant was telling the driller where to drill, if the borehole was unsuccessful, the implementing agency had to pay the driller for all the work done and materials used, i.e. according to a Bill of Quantities (BoQ). Unsuccessful boreholes were blamed on the quality of the consultants’ siting work, with briefcase consultants (meaning those with no formal geology or hydrogeology training) having flooded the market. Because of the low prices they offered, coupled with a lack of regulation, these consultants were gaining siting contracts.

Paying for unsuccessful boreholes was challenging and it was becoming difficult for District Local Governments to meet their targets for new safe water sources. Project managers were being made to look inept. Moreover, political leaders failed to understand that some unsuccessful boreholes were a common part of drilling, hence, if a driller was paid for an unsuccessful borehole, politicians saw this as corrupt. Some district water officers were even threatened with jail.

The solution found was to remove the consultant and hand over all of the responsibility for finding water to the driller. If the driller then drilled an unsuccessful borehole, they would not be paid as they were the ones responsible for siting the borehole. The risk of finding water of an inadequate yield fell squarely on the driller.

Benefits and challenges of turnkey contract use

Turnkey contracts have greatly simplified the procurement and contract management process for project managers in Uganda. Under turnkey contracts, implementing agencies only need to procure and manage a drilling contractor. Furthermore, as the amount the drilling contractor will be paid if the borehole is successful is determined during the tender process, there are no surprise costs for the implementing agency. Additionally, under the no water, no pay payment terms, agencies do not have to directly spend any money on unsuccessful boreholes; money is only being spent on boreholes that are declared successful.

While turnkey contracts have notable benefits, several concerns were raised among those interviewed in Uganda as to the quality of the work:

  • Siting based on ease of finding water: under turnkey contracts, drilling contractors need to find sufficient water in order to be paid. Consequently, it was widely reported that drilling contractors are siting boreholes where it is easy to find water, for example, in valleys, or near swamps or riverbanks. Not only are drilling contractors extremely likely to find water in these areas, hence be paid, but they will often drill to a much shallower depths than their lump sum cost estimate was based on. A greater margin can therefore be made in these areas. Boreholes situated in such areas, however, are vulnerable to pollution. While a borehole may pass water quality tests immediately after drilling, the water may be unsafe for human consumption in the rainy months as surface pollutant transport and leaching rates increase or in several years’ time as pollutants accumulate in these areas. Furthermore, community access may be limited, especially in rainy months when these areas may be vulnerable to flooding.
  • Short-cuts on-site: under no-water-no-pay payment terms, drilling contractors need to save money wherever possible so they can recover the losses that they make on unsuccessful boreholes. To save money, it was reported that certain drilling contractors in Uganda are known for:
  • Using low quality and/or hydrogeologically inappropriate materials, for example, galvanised iron rising mains rather than stainless steel in acidic groundwaters. Galvanised iron rising mains are 4-5 times cheaper than stainless steel. When galvanised iron rising mains are used in acidic groundwaters (which are common in Uganda), red/brown coloured water, unfit for human consumption is extremely likely (Casey et al., 2016).
  • Using inappropriate materials for the borehole design, for example, using 5″ casing when a 6/6.5″ open-hole borehole[1] has been drilled as 5″ casing is cheaper than 6/6.5″. To prevent the 5″ casing from falling into the 6/6.5″ open-hole, drilling contractors heat the base and stretch this to fit on top of the open area. 42% of drilling contractors interviewed (n = 14) admitted to this practice. While some see this as a clever trick, others were concerned that silt will accumulate in these boreholes over time, due to gaps between the casing and the consolidated rock and/or cracks that form in the thinly stretched areas of the casing. Such siltation will not only wear the handpump parts down, but it may also lead to appearance problems from the users’ perspective as this silt enters the water supply.
  • Stopping drilling at the first water strike. A great deal of money can be saved here; in Ethiopia, for example, drilling to 50 metres instead of 60 metres reduces the drilling cost by 13% (Calow et al., 2012). If the borehole does not penetrate the main aquifer, however, the quantity of water available post-construction may be problematic, even if the borehole passes the pumping test.
  • Skewing the pump test data or cutting the pump test time short to mask low-yielding, unsuccessful sites. These boreholes will inevitably be low-yielding post-construction, or in worst case, dry.

The need for drilling contractors to take the above shortcuts in Uganda is exacerbated by the fact that, in many cases, the lump sum contractors are paid for drilling a successful borehole is too low in the first instance. Furthermore, supervision by a trained hydrogeologist is rare.

Where to from here for turnkey contracts?

Opinions on whether turnkey contracts should continue to be used in Uganda differ among different actors: the majority of implementing agencies in Uganda believe the use of turnkey contracts should continue, while consultants and the Ministry of Water and the Environment (MWE) believe that they should cease, given the quality of work concerns outlined above.

MWE went so far to release a directive in January 2017 discouraging the use of turnkey contracts, instead stating that split contracts, one for siting (awarded to a hydrogeologist/consultant) and one for drilling/installation (awarded to a drilling contractor) be used going forward. Opinions among drilling contractors themselves seemed impartial; most do not mind working under turnkey contracts, they simply ask that the lump sum prices implementing agencies are willing to pay for successful boreholes increase in the future so they are not forced to take shortcuts on-site.

What do you think?

So what do you think? Do you have experiences of turnkey contracts for borehole drilling, or other practices that you would like to share. You can respond below by posting in the reply below, or you can join the live webinar on the 14th of May (register here).


Calow, R., MacDonald, A., and Cross, P. (2012). Corruption in rural water supply in Ethiopia. In J. Plummer (Ed.), Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia: Perceptions, realities and the way forward for key sectors (pp 121-179). Washington DC, USA: World Bank. Available from

Casey, V., Brown, L., Carpenter, J.D., Nekesa, J., and Etti, B. (2016). The role of handpump corrosion in the contamination and failure of rural water supplies. Waterlines, 35(1), 59-77. Available from

Liddle, E.S. and Fenner, R.A. (2018). Review of handpump-borehole implementation in Uganda, Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/18/002). Available from

[1] Boreholes may be ‘fully-cased’ or ‘open-hole’. If a borehole is ‘fully-cased’ the entire vertical is cased, with screens in the water bearing layers. If the borehole is ‘open-hole’, however, only the unconsolidated areas of the vertical borehole are cased – the remaining consolidated rock is left ‘open’ (no casing or screens).


This work is part of the Hidden Crisis project within the UPGro research programme – co-funded by NERC, DFID, and ESRC.

The fieldwork undertaken for this report is part of the authors PhD research at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor Richard Fenner. This fieldwork was funded by the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund and UPGro: Hidden Crisis.

Thank you to those of you from Makerere University and WaterAid Uganda who provided logistical and field support while I was conducting the interviews for this report (especially Dr Michael Owor, Felece Katusiime, and Joseph Okullo from Makerere University and Gloria Berochan from WaterAid Uganda). Thank you also to all of the respondents for being eager and willing to participate in this research.

Photo: “Hidden Crisis team members using a CCTV camera to undertake downhole observations of the borehole construction of a community borehole” (Source: ‘BGS © NERC. UPGro Hidden Crisis Project.’)

Les contrats clés en main pour l’implantation et le forage de puits d’eau

Il s’agit du premier d’une série de quatre blogs intitulée ‘Le forage professionnel de puits d’eau: Apprendre de l’Ouganda” de Elisabeth Liddle et d’un webinaire en 2019 sur le forage de puits professionnel. Cette série s’appuie sur les recherches menées en Ouganda par Liddle et Fenner (2018). Nous vous invitons à nous faire part de vos commentaires en réponse à ce blog ci-dessous.

Les forages réalisés dans le cadre d’un “contrat clé en main ” sont devenus de plus en plus courants dans toute l’Afrique subsaharienne. Des recherches récentes menées en Ouganda par Liddle et Fenner (2018) ont montré que les contrats clés en main sont le type de contrat le plus courant lorsque le secteur privé fournit de nouveaux forages pour des pompes manuelles en milieu rural, bien que cela n’ait pas toujours été le cas. Dans ce blog, nous donnons un aperçu de ce que sont les contrats clé en main, pourquoi ils sont utilisés en Ouganda, et les avantages et les défis associés à leur utilisation en Ouganda.

Qu’est-ce qu’un contrat clé en main et pourquoi ces contrats sont-ils utilisés en Ouganda ?

Dans le cadre d’un contrat clé en main, un entrepreneur en forage est responsable à la fois de l’implantation et des travaux de forage et d’installation. Les contrats clés en main sont payés par le biais de modalités de paiement au forfait, c’est-à-dire “pas d’eau, pas de paiement “. Si le forage est fructueux, le foreur recevra la totalité du prix au forfait, quels que soient les coûts engagés sur place. Toutefois, si le forage est infructueux (forage à sec ou à faible rendement), le foreur ne sera pas payé du tout.

Les contrats clés en main ont pris de l’importance en Ouganda au milieu des années 2000 lorsque les agences d’exécution (autorités locales de district et Organisations Non Gouvernementales) devenaient de plus en plus frustrées par le nombre de forages infructueux réalisés lorsque les consultants effectuaient les travaux d’implantation de forages. Comme le consultant indiquait au foreur l’endroit où forer, si le forage échouait, l’agence de mise en œuvre devait payer le foreur pour tous les travaux effectués et les matériaux utilisés, c’est-à-dire selon un cahier des charges. L’échec des forages était imputé à la qualité du travail d’implantation des consultants ; de fait, les « consultants à mallette » (c’est-à-dire ceux qui n’avaient pas de formation officielle en géologie ou en hydrogéologie) avaient inondé le marché. En raison des bas prix qu’ils offraient et de l’absence de réglementation, ces consultants parvenaient à remporter des contrats d’implantation de forage.

Payer pour des forages infructueux était donc un problème, et il était devenu difficile pour les autorités locales de district d’atteindre leurs objectifs en matière de nouvelles sources d’eau potable. Les chefs de projet passaient pour incompétents. De plus, les responsables politiques ne comprenaient pas qu’un nombre de forages infructueux faisait partie intégrante du travail de forage ; par conséquent, si un foreur était payé pour un forage infructueux, les responsables politiques le considéraient comme corrompu. Certains responsables des services de l’eau au niveau du district ont même été menacés de prison.

La solution trouvée a été de retirer le consultant et de confier toute la responsabilité de la recherche de l’eau au foreur. Si le foreur forait alors un puits infructueux, il ne serait pas payé, car c’est lui qui était responsable de l’implantation du trou de forage. Le foreur prenait également tous les risques associés à un rendement d’eau inadéquat.

Avantages et défis de l’utilisation de contrats clés en main

Les contrats clés en main ont grandement simplifié le processus de passation de marché et de gestion de contrat pour les responsables de projets en Ouganda. Dans le cadre de contrats clés en main, les maitres d’ouvrage n’ont qu’à sélectionner et gérer un entrepreneur en forage. En outre, étant donné que le montant payé à l’entrepreneur si le forage est fructueux est déterminé au cours du processus d’appel d’offres, il n’y a pas de coûts imprévus pour le maitre d’ouvrage. De plus, en vertu des modalités de paiement « pas d’eau, pas de paiement », les organismes n’ont pas à dépenser directement de l’argent pour des forages infructueux ; l’argent n’est dépensé que pour des forages qui sont déclarés fructueux.

Bien que les contrats clés en main présentent des avantages notables, les chercheurs se sont entretenus avec plusieurs personnes en Ouganda qui se sont dites préoccupées par la qualité du travail :

  • Le choix du site est fonction de la facilité à trouver de l’eau: Dans le cadre de contrats clés en main, les entrepreneurs de forage doivent trouver suffisamment d’eau pour être payés. De multiples entretiens ont confirmé que les entrepreneurs en forage forent des puits là où il semble plus facile de trouver de l’eau, par exemple dans les vallées ou près des marécages ou des rivières. Non seulement les entrepreneurs de forage sont extrêmement susceptibles de trouver de l’eau dans ces zones, donc d’être payés, mais ils forent souvent à des profondeurs beaucoup moins profondes que celles sur lesquelles leur estimation forfaitaire de coûts était basée. Une marge plus importante peut donc être réalisée dans ces conditions. Les forages situés dans ces zones sont toutefois vulnérables à la pollution. Bien qu’un forage puisse passer les tests de qualité de l’eau immédiatement après avoir été foré, l’eau peut être impropre à la consommation humaine pendant les mois pluvieux en raison de l’augmentation du transport des polluants de surface et des taux de lixiviation ou, après plusieurs années, du fait de l’accumulation des polluants dans ces zones. En outre, l’accès des communautés à ces puits peut être limité, en particulier pendant les mois pluvieux où ces zones peuvent être vulnérables aux inondations.
  • Le bricolage pour faire des économies: En vertu des modalités de paiement « pas d’eau, pas de paiement »,, les entrepreneurs de forage doivent économiser dans la mesure du possible afin de pouvoir amortir les pertes qu’ils ont subies. Pour économiser de l’argent, il a été rapporté que certains entrepreneurs de forage en Ouganda sont connus pour les pratiques suivantes :
  • L’utilisation de matériaux de mauvaise qualité et/ou qui ne sont pas appropriés qux conditions hydrogéologiques, par exemple, des conduites montantes en fer galvanisé plutôt qu’en acier inoxydable dans les eaux souterraines acides. Les conduites montantes en fer galvanisé sont 4 à 5 fois moins chères que l’acier inoxydable. Lorsque des conduites montantes en fer galvanisé sont utilisées dans les eaux souterraines acides (qui sont courantes en Ouganda), une eau de couleur rouge/brune impropre à la consommation humaine est fort probable (Casey et al., 2016).
  • L’utilisation de matériaux inappropriés pour la conception du forage, par exemple, l’utilisation d’un tubage de 5 pouces lorsqu’un forage ouvert de 6/6,5 pouces[1] a été foré, car le tubage de 5 pouces est moins cher que celui de 6/6,5 pouces. Pour éviter que le tubage de 5 pouces ne tombe dans le trou ouvert de 6/6,5 pouces, les foreurs en chauffent la base et l’étirent pour l’ajuster au dessus de la zone ouverte. 42 % des entrepreneurs en forage interrogés (n = 14) ont admis avoir recours à cette pratique. Alors que certains y voient une bonne astuce, d’autres craignent que de la vase ne s’accumule dans ces forages avec le temps, en raison de l’espace entre le tubage et la roche consolidée et/ou des fissures qui se forment dans les zones les plus tendues du tubage. Un tel envasement use non seulement les pièces de la pompe à main, mais peut également entraîner des problèmes d’apparence du point de vue de l’utilisateur lorsque la vase pénètre dans l’alimentation en eau potable.
  • Arrêter de forer lorsqu’on rencontre de l’eau pour la première fois: On peut économiser beaucoup d’argent ainsi ; en Ethiopie, par exemple, forer à 50 mètres au lieu de 60 mètres réduit le coût du forage de 13% (Calow et al., 2012). Toutefois, si le forage ne pénètre pas dans l’aquifère principal, la quantité d’eau disponible après la construction peut être problématique, même si le forage passe l’essai de pompage.

3) Interférer avec les données d’essai de la pompe ou raccourcir le temps d’essai de la pompe

Cela permet de masquer les sites à faible rendement et les sites infructueux. Ces forages seront inévitablement à faible rendement après construction ou, dans le pire des cas, à sec.

La nécessité pour les foreurs d’avoir recours aux pratiques ci-dessus en Ouganda est exacerbée par le fait que, dans de nombreux cas, le forfait auquel les foreurs sont payés pour un forage réussi n’est pas assez élevé. De plus, la supervision par un hydrogéologue qualifié est rare.

Que faire en ce qui concerne les contrats clés en main ?

Les contrats clés en main devraient-ils continuer à être utilisés en Ouganda ? Les avis diffèrent d’un acteur à l’autre : la majorité des maitres d’ouvrage en Ouganda estiment que le recours aux contrats clés en main devrait se poursuivre, tandis que les consultants et le Ministère de l’eau et de l’environnement estiment qu’ils devraient cesser, au vu des problèmes de qualité des travaux décrits ci-dessus.

Le Ministère de l’eau et de l’environnement est allé jusqu’à publier une directive en janvier 2017 décourageant l’utilisation de contrats clés en main, et préconisant plutôt que les contrats subdivisés, un pour le choix du site (attribué à un hydrogéologue/consultant) et un pour le forage et l’installation (attribué à un entrepreneur en forage) soient dorénavant utilisés. Les opinions des foreurs eux-mêmes semblent impartiales ; la plupart d’entre eux ne s’opposent pas à l’idée de travailler dans le cadre de contrats clés en main ; ils demandent simplement à ce que les prix forfaitaires que les maitres d’ouvrage soient prêts à payer pour des forages réussis augmentent dans le futur, pour qu’ils ne soient pas obligés de prendre de bricoler pour faire des économies sur place.

Qu’en pensez-vous?

 Alors, qu’en pensez-vous? Avez-vous de l’expérience en matière de contrats clés en main pour forer des puits d’eau, ou d’autres pratiques que vous aimeriez partager ? Vous pouvez répondre ci-dessous en postant un commentaire, ou vous pouvez participer au webinaire en direct le 14 mai (inscriptions ici)


Calow, R., MacDonald, A., and Cross, P. (2012). Corruption in rural water supply in Ethiopia. In J. Plummer (Ed.), Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia: Perceptions, realities and the way forward for key sectors (pp 121-179). Washington DC, USA: World Bank. Available from

Casey, V., Brown, L., Carpenter, J.D., Nekesa, J., and Etti, B. (2016). The role of handpump corrosion in the contamination and failure of rural water supplies. Waterlines, 35(1), 59-77. Available from

Liddle, E.S. and Fenner, R.A. (2018). Review of handpump-borehole implementation in Uganda, Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/18/002). Available from

[1] Les trous de forage peuvent être ” entièrement tubés ” ou ” ouverts “. Si un trou de forage est ” entièrement tubé “, toute la partie verticale est tubée, avec des grilles dans les couches d’eau. Toutefois, si le trou de forage est ” ouvert “, seules les zones non consolidées du forage vertical sont tubées – le reste de la roche consolidée est laissé à l’état “ouvert ” (pas de tube ni de grilles).

Un pouce équivaut à 2,54 cm (note du traducteur).


Ce travail fait partie du projet Hidden Crisis du programme de recherche UPGro – cofinancé par le NERC, le DFID et l’ESRC.

Le travail de terrain entrepris pour ce rapport fait partie de la recherche doctorale des auteurs à l’Université de Cambridge, sous la supervision du Professeur Richard Fenner. Ce travail sur le terrain a été financé par le Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund et UPGro : Hidden Crisis.

Merci à ceux d’entre vous de l’Université de Makerere et de WaterAid Ouganda qui m’ont apporté un soutien logistique, y compris sur le terrain, pendant que je menais les entretiens pour ce rapport (en particulier le Dr Michael Owor, Felece Katusiime et Joseph Okullo de l’Université Makerere et Gloria Berochan de WaterAid Uganda). Merci également à tous les répondants d’avoir été enthousiastes et disposés à participer à cette recherche.

Photo: ” Les membres de l’équipe Hidden Crisis utilisent une caméra de CCTV pour l’observation du fond de puits de la construction d’un forage communautaire ” (Source: ‘BGS © NERC. UPGro Hidden Crisis Project.’)


Professional Water Wells Drilling: Country Assessments of the Sector – UPDATED!

From 2003 to date, assessments of borehole drilling sector cost-effectiveness and professionalism have been undertaken for the following countries:

Do you know of other national assessments of borehole drilling sector cost-effectiveness and professionalism, perhaps in your own country? If so, please share in the comments below.

Update 21 August 2018

Key points:

  • “Turn-key” contracts should not be used, instead implementing agencies should procure an independent consultant for drilling and supervision and pay drillers for drilling/installation work done.
  • The research supports the guidance set out Danert K., Gesti Canuto J. (2016) Professional Water Well Drilling. A UNICEF Guidance Note  , Unicef , Skat Foundation