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.

Ugandan drillers receive training at the Water Resources Institute

Being back in Uganda again after an absence of five years gives me immense joy. This country of warmth, friendliness and humour, where one can literally have an engaging conversation with anyone, whether askari (guard), taxi driver, fruit and vegetable seller, driller or civil servant. Thus, my few days here have been filled with shared laughter and kaboozi (Luganda for conversation or gossip, but the word conveys so much more).

My visit to Kampala has coincided with the first day of a three-day training entitled “Practical Skills in Drilling” by Uganda’s Water Resources Institute. The training is for 25 drillers and assistant drillers, and comprises a classroom day, followed by two days in the field. As we sit waiting for the training to commence, I ask the participants (all men so far) why there are no women drillers. We talk about the man’s world of drilling (stamina needed), and the women’s world of fetching water (stamina needed). The discussion is engaging and together we reflect on the role of women and men in society and the home. For my side I feel proud to be one of the few women involved in drilling and talk about the two manual companies that I have heard about in Zambia which are run by women. On the spot, I really wish that there were many more of us….

The training commences. The course is a collaboration between the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) Water Resources Institute (WRI) and the Uganda Drilling Contractors Association (UDCA). The Chair of the Association, Dr Flavio Pasqualato from Draco (U) Ltd., gives a his opening words of encouragement, followed by the Managing Director, Anthony Luutu of Aquatech Ltd. I am invited to say a few words, and express my delight at seeing training of drillers that I wish was happening on a regular basis in ALL countries on the African continent and beyond.

Training 1

Gracious Sembali systematically collects the expectations of the participants

Dr Callist Tindimugaya (MWE) officially opens the training, pointing out that when people are learning informally from each other, that the message will change over time. I think of the game of Chinese whispers and vow to include it as an icebreaker at the start of my next drilling training course make his point. Callist also adds that “Nobody has all the knowledge; you can learn from each other”, something that is key in adult education.

Training 2

Dr Callist Tindimugaya explains the hydrogeology of Uganda to participants

Trying to raise drilling professionalism is a significant undertaking, and I am struck by the pragmatic messages that Callist conveys to all of us. “If you and your colleagues are doing a good job, you will raise the respect for drillers in Uganda…..we want drillers to be seen as serious and doing good quality work”.

It is clear that the training that the institute has been undertaking has had an effect on training methods. Gracious Sembali from Hippo Technical Services systematically collects the expectations of the participants, and writes them up on a flip chart, carefully grouping them:

  1. Improve knowledge and skills (e.g. when to stop drilling, mud drilling techniques, formation collapse, drilling in sediments)
  2. Standardisation in drilling
  3. Knowledge of different formations
  4. Certification as a driller by UCDA
  5. Knowledge-sharing including experiences
  6. Hydrological aspects and siting
  7. Handling of clients and public relations
  8. Availability of geological maps
  9. Expectations of facilitators
  10. Benefits of UCDA membership and recognition

As I listen, I am struck by the number of issues that are beyond the training course itself, something I have also observed in the course I have run, or managed. The specific skills sought and wider concerns are intertwined.

Alas, I am only able to attend the first presentation, an overview of Uganda’s geology and hydrogeology. I learn a lot, and observe the participants taking notes, and later asking questions. There is so much to be learnt, and the eagerness of these drillers and assistant drillers is apparent. I am delighted at what I see, encouraged, and then start thinking about the number of drillers on the African continent, and that this is needed for all. I try not to get disheartened. There are national training institutes undertaking short courses like these, or longer courses in Nigeria and Ethiopia. In some countries, people are more than aware of the need, and the demand, but are looking left and right for funding, without success. I am glad to have run similar courses, but am so aware that to date these have been ad hoc.

So my closing words? A huge thank you to the Ministry of Water and Environment’s Water Resources Institute and the Uganda Drilling Contractors Association (UCDA) for what you are doing. It is inspirational.

Now, how can training in drilling professionalism be institutionalised elsewhere?

Photo credits: Dr Kerstin Danert.

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.

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.’)

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

Achieving Professional and Sustainable Drilling in Madagascar? Yes, we can!

Guest blog by Charles Serele, UNICEF Madagascar

As part of its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program in Madagascar, UNICEF is committed to supporting the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (MWSH) to build the capacity of the drilling sector. With this in mind, UNICEF organized a training on “Drilling Techniques and Supervision” in collaboration with the MWSH. The training targeted various stakeholders in the water sector, including government departments, drilling companies and consultancy firms who manage water supply projects, supervise or drill boreholes.

The training was held in Antananarivo (Madagascar) and organized in three different sessions of three days each, from February 7th to 23th, 2018. Fifty-four participants, including fifteen women attended the training course. The training was facilitated by Charles Serele, an experienced WASH Specialist from UNICEF Madagascar.


To enhance individual knowledge and ensure sharing of experiences among participants, the overall approach used to deliver the course involved a mixture of lectures, interactive discussions, group exercises and presentation of drilling videos. Extensive reading materials from RWSN and UNICEF were shared along with exercises to be carried out by the participants.

The course participants actively engaged in the discussions and group activities. The training provided an opportunity to learn from each other and to reflect on what can be improved.

Course Modules

1.      Professionalization of the drilling sector

2.      Methods of borehole siting

3.      Construction of boreholes

4.      Supervision of boreholes

5.      Management of drilling data

The course review showed that participants’ technical knowledge in borehole drilling and supervision greatly improved. Participants also expressed their satisfaction with the course content and the relevance of the topics that were covered.

Forty-five participants (83%), including fourteen women passed the evaluation test conducted on the last day of the training. During the official closing ceremony each successful participant received a poster on cost-effective boreholes, in addition to a certificate.

As a next step, a field-based training should be organized to better illustrate best practices in drilling professional and sustainable boreholes.



Additional resources


The training course was facilitated by Charles Serele, UNICEF Madagascar and organized under the supervision of the Chief of WASH, Silvia Gaya and with the support of the UNICEF WASH team. For additional information, contact UNICEF Madagascar on


Voyage of groundwater discovery

The first ‘Professional Management of Water Well Drilling Projects and Programmes’ online course, provided by Unicef, Skat Foundation and Cap-Net kicked off in early March 2018.

Running over six weeks, the new online course provides participants with an overview of what is required to improve borehole drilling professionalism in the countries in which they work.

Requiring about six hours of investment per week, plus an additional four for the final assignment, it provides a 40-hour training opportunity for people from all over the world – and they can take part without leaving their home or workplace.

The application process was open for a month, and we received 648 applications spanning 381 organisations and 96 countries. We were astounded by the level of interest. Unfortunately, we could only accept 85 participants, a mere 13% of those who applied, our limitation being funding for sufficient, good facilitation. And so over the past weeks we have been interacting with the participants who work in 35 organisations in 43 countries, of whom 33% are women.

We provide extensive reading material and videos for each module, and the participants engage with the topics through their weekly assignments, participation in online discussion forums and a weekly quiz. For example, they have been tasked with looking at the drilling supervision practices in their own organisations, to prepare a hydrogeological desk study and to reflect on regulatory policies and practices in the countries in which they work.

I was sceptical about online courses until I undertook my first one three years ago. This time, as a facilitator, I’ve witnessed that this course provides an opportunity for people who are already managing drilling projects and programmes to improve their skills and knowledge from far and wide.

So what are we learning every day from the participants? For example, that drilling data is not shared because of fear that the information may be used for gaining the upper hand in mining minerals in one country. Or about the rapidly falling groundwater levels in Sanaa, Yemen, threatening the agriculture and domestic water supplies of the future. And we’ve found out about nuances in the way in which corruption affects the regulation of drilling professionalism in different contexts. Through the course, innovative approaches are also being revealed, such as new regulations in a number of countries, efforts to improve procurement procedures in Nigeria, or post-construction monitoring of water supply systems through private management combining mixed farming and water supply systems in northern Madagascar.

 ourse modules Course modules


Integral to the course is that it provides an opportunity for participants to learn from each other, reflect on what can be improved and to debate contentious topics – a key one being who should pay for the cost of drilling a dry borehole? The final assignment in the course involves sharing what has been learned more widely and trying to inspire others to improve borehole drilling management practices. Once the course is complete, all of the materials are accessible through the Cap-Net virtual campus (

So what next, you may ask? Firstly, we shall learn from this first course and make improvements. We would then like to run the course again later in the year, repeat it in the future and also make it available in other languages, starting with French. We know that there is demand. With the structure and materials now developed and online, future courses will be less costly than developing and running the first one. But we need to assure the cost of good facilitation. So if anyone would like to sponsor a course, say as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR), either fully or partially, please contact us at

Kerstin Danert works for Skat Foundation and Skat Consulting in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and leads the Rural Water Supply Network’s (RWSN) theme on Sustainable Groundwater Development. In 2017 she was awarded the Distinguished Associate Award by the International Association of Hydrogeologists.

This article was first published in GeoDrilling International and is reproduced with permission and thanks.

Getting groundwater off the ground

How do we  raise capacity for borehole drilling and its management globally? If everyone is to have access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, detailed attention is required for the siting, drilling and installation of boreholes in every single project in every country. Alas, this is not always the case. The result is that many boreholes fail within a very short time.

RWSN members are telling us that they want more in-country training.  The article linked below provides some suggestions. Do you have ideas or incentives for government and private enterprises invest in skill development in the groundwater sector, and in the rural water sector at large?

To find out more:


Zambia: Borehole Drilling Harming Ground Water

THE construction sector in Zambia is at an all-time high, with buildings springing up all around the country, particularly in urban areas.

It is a building rush cutting across commercial entities and private individuals who are investing heavily in picturesque houses.

This is a mark of how Zambians have learnt the advantages of becoming homeowners and, consequently, securing the future of their families.

Continue reading “Zambia: Borehole Drilling Harming Ground Water”

What is the big deal about manual drilling anyway?

Let me tell you a not-very-well-kept secret. My PhD research some 15 years ago was on manual drilling. That was what took me to Uganda in the first place and taught me how to link social science, business development and technology. For those of you who don’t know what it is, manual drilling refers to several drilling methods that rely on human energy to construct a borehole and complete a water supply. These methods can be used in areas where formations are quite soft and groundwater is relatively shallow. And by the way, the “Pounder rig” as we called it worked, but it never took off in Uganda (the details are in my thesis).
Continue reading “What is the big deal about manual drilling anyway?”