Building Boreholes that Last a Lifetime

4 min read
Aerial view of women and children filling buckets and waiting for their turn at a borehole, Chisi Island, Zomba, Malawi.
Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

Groundwater is a valuable resource for communities and a huge untapped source of clean water throughout Africa, but accessing and maximizing its potential can be difficult.

Vincent Casey, Senior WASH Advisor at WaterAid, introduces a series of videos demonstrating good practice in borehole drilling.

WaterAid, together with the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN), UNICEF and Resource Centre and Consultancies for Development (SKAT) are behind a movement to promote higher standards of water supply implementation. Recently we launched four videos setting out critical steps by which to ensure boreholes have the best chance of success.

But first:

Split section diagram of a borehole rig | WaterAid
Image: WaterAid


Groundwater is a valuable source for water supply programs because :

  • It tends to be available year round when other sources dry up.
  • It can be developed at low cost close to homes.
  • It usually  does not require expensive treatment.

At the moment, groundwater represents a third of global water withdrawals. Good practice must be followed if groundwater development programs are to reach their full potential. If certain steps are not taken, there is a high chance that boreholes will fail, investment will be wasted and people will remain un-served.

Good quantities of groundwater cannot be found everywhere.

For more information about groundwater, read our report, Groundwater: the world's neglected defense against climate change

In terms of implementation, this video highlights the importance of good borehole siting:


Drilling contractors cannot be left to construct boreholes without full-time qualified supervision; spot-checking is not enough to ensure a good job will be done. This video highlights the importance of enlisting qualified drilling supervision:


Drilling for water is complicated. Most of the construction is underground and much can go wrong. If drilling contracts are structured so that drillers are not paid anything for dry boreholes then all the risk is passed to them and they may be encouraged to cut corners that impact on the quality of boreholes. Good drilling contract management requires an understanding of the uncertainties and a series of steps that will ensure better drilling:


Pump failure can be caused by poor quality borehole design or construction. Meet Henry the hand pump mechanic as he learns about the basics of good borehole siting, design, construction and well development. Find out about casing and screen, gravel pack, and the sanitary seal and see that silting is one reason that boreholes fail.


From advocacy to engineering, we cover a lot of ground, but the fundamentals of our work are simple:

Clean water infrastructure means people can access clean, running water 365 days a year.

Learn more


Toilets matter more than you might think. Sanitation is fundamental for the dignity and health of a community.

Learn more


Hygiene is the final piece of the puzzle. Good hygiene helps people stay healthier, it prevents the spread of diseases and allows people to flourish.

Learn more