Marion Medical Mission
Shallow Wells for Clean Water in Africa
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"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

What is a Shallow Well?


A shallow well, as we use the term, is a hand dug water well, 10 to 20 ft. deep and about 6 ft. diameter.  It is lined with locally made bricks and sealed with a concrete top slab.  A simple hand powered pump is installed in the top slab to allow women to pump the water. 


The drawing to the right shows a cutaway view of a shallow well.  

The villagers dig the hole, using whatever primitive tools they have available.  These typically are limited to hoes, buckets and sometimes a stub of a shovel or a pick if they are lucky.

They are to dig until there is about 6 ft of water standing in the well.  Then the bottom is lined with stones to minimize dirt or sand clogging the foot valve.

While this picture does not show it, we are now enlarging the bottom diameter of the well - sort of like a bulb - to give a larger reservoir space and to have enough space at the bottom for reworking if that ever becomes necessary.

Bricks are laid around the perimeter - building up a wall.  The first 5 courses of bricks are laid without using mortar so that water can get into the well.  From the 6th layer and up mortar is used for strength.  On the lower half of the well, the space behind the brick wall is filled with small stones so that water can come in and filter down to the bottom of the well.  From the mid-point on up to the surface, the space behind the bricks is filled with clay, such as from an anthill, to seal out surface water and prevent contamination.

The brick wall is built up above the surface to a level of 18 to 24 inches.  A previously made top slab of concrete is then placed on top and mortared in place.   The outside of the bricks above ground is plastered with concrete to seal and protect them.

An apron, 1 meter wide, is built around the well on the surface.  The apron is to prevent surface water from getting down beside the well and possibly contaminate it.   A drain runs out from the apron to carry any excess water or rain water away from the well, also to prevent contamination.

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A shallow well bricked up just above surface.  It will get a few
more courses before it is finished.

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A cutaway view of a shallow well.

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A completed shallow well.

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The pump we use is a Mark 5 hand pump.   This pump has been used in Africa for many years but is still one of the simplest and easiest to manufacture pump available.  The pump and all of its parts are made in Africa by Africans.

The portion of the pump visible above ground is made from galvanized pipe. We actually manufacture the above ground portion - cutting and threading the galvanized pipe in our own workshop. 

The portions of the pump below ground is made of PVC, both the pipe and the fittings. The PVC pipe is extruded locally - in Malawi that is done in Lilongwe.  The PVC downhole parts (foot valve, plunger etc) use to be made in a machine shop in Lilongwe but now we manufacture them in our own workshop.  Jerry Roush redesigned the downhole parts to simplify them, make them easier to build and more efficient.  See the details on The Roush Plunger and Foot Valve.  The pictures here on this page, still show the older design.

The pump is just a straight up and down motion - like a bicycle pump. This keeps everything simple and easier to build and maintain. Since we limit the depth of the well to 20 ft, this is within the ability of the women to pump.  If the wells were much deeper than 20 ft, then the weight of the water would require a different design.

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The Mark 5 pump laid out for demonstration purposes.