Sticker Shock

Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money.  A price tag with $80 thousand on it causes some sticker shock.  This is what we’re trying to raise for the deep borehole well in Wolaita Soddo for the kids at the CCC orphanage.

We’re at nearly $60 thousand.  A lot of people have given generously to help us get to this point.  We have enough to move forward with the drilling and casing of the well, which is scheduled to begin in October.  We’d like to express a big thanks to all of you who have donated to this cause.  We still need $20 thousand more to fully complete the project.

In the process of raising funds for this well, we’ve experience some push back from some people asking why it costs so much to drill this well.  These are very legitimate concerns.  It is a big price tag and with the amount of wastage and corruption that sometimes happens with “aid and development” projects, I fully respect these questions.  If people are going to donate to a cause, they want to be assured that their money is going to be used wisely and effectively.  Below I have set out to provide a little explanation of the costs for the CCC well project.

The price is a combination of factors, mostly connected to the depth to which we have to drill and from which we have to pump in order to have a consistent, reliable water source, given our location.  People who haven’t been to Ethiopia, do not always realize that much of the country is highland terrain.  People often have images of dry, low-lying savanna and desert.  There are certainly parts of Ethiopia that are hot, low and dry, but the majority of the country actually sits on terrain above 6000 feet.  The capital city of Addis Ababa, for example, lies mostly between 7500 and 8000 feet.  The town of Soddo in the Wolaita Zone, where the CCC orphanage is located, lies between 6000 and 7000 feet (the CCC orphanage itself is at 6500 feet).  This elevation, combined with the specific geological and hydrological characteristics of the area, means that in order to hit an aquifer that will supply year-round water, a deep borehole well on our compound will likely be between 500 and 600 feet deep.  That’s a very deep well.

There are very few places in North America where people have to drill to 500 feet to hit a consistent water source.  I grew up with my family home on a well outside of Moncton, NB, Canada.  Our well of 90 feet has served my family home well for over 30 years.  I just did a quick search online of well logs in various regions of the United States.  This is by no means an exhaustive piece of research, but in Ohio I found most wells between 30 – 80 feet deep.  In Oregon, I found wells between 100 – 200 feet deep, with a few over 300.  In Missouri, I found wells everywhere from 50 – 300 feet.  Even in Colorado, where the elevations are similar to Ethiopia, I found most wells between 200 – 400 feet, with very few over 500 feet deep.  In fact, in regions of Colorado where the elevation was similar to Soddo (between 6000 – 7000 feet), most of the wells I found were still less than 200 feet deep.  The same would be true of most of the African continent.  There would be very few places in Africa with terrain at the elevation that it is in Wolaita Soddo.  Every well will be different and very specific to the exact drilling location, but the point is, drilling to over 500 feet to find consistent water is a problem quite unique to our location in Wolaita.  Drilling to this kind of depth is expensive.

The best quote that we received for the drilling and casing of our well is through Water is Life International ( and their drilling partner Hawassa Salem Drillers PLC.  They have quoted us at $80 / meter.  Of course, once a well is drilled, it must be cased to keep the well from collapsing.  Our costs for casing will be at $60 / meter (for PVC casing because steel was just too cost prohibitive).  Obviously, the deeper one has to drill and case, the more costly a well will be.  At these costs, just the per meter costs of drilling and casing a well to 180 meters is over $25,000 and that doesn’t include mobilization costs for the rig and equipment, purification and testing costs for the well, site preparation costs, etc.  It also doesn’t even touch on pump purchase and installation costs, water storage costs, piping costs, labor, taxes (15% VAT here in Ethiopia), etc.

Another unique aspect of the CCC compound is that it sits on a side-hill that slopes at a 60-degree angle, down into a small gorge about 600 feet below the children’s home.  Our hydro-geological survey and report for the site recommends that we drill on the lower end of the compound because that is the cheapest and most probable place to hit water.  What this means, though, is that we have to, not only pump water to the surface of the well, but we have to pump it up our side hill to the top of the compound and then to the top of our storage tanks.  We will, therefore, need a pump with the capacity to pump water a total of 1,100 vertical feet (over 500 feet from water level to the surface of the well, then an additional 500 vertical feet from the surface of the well to the top of our water storage tanks).  These kinds of pumps are expensive, to the tune of $12,000, plus they require 3-phase electrical power, which the orphanage compound does not currently have.  Installing 3-phase electrical power with a 21 KW transformer on our compound costs another $9000.  You can quickly see how these costs are adding up.

As we explored this project and costs of it, we researched all the cheaper options available.  Unfortunately, each of these options failed to meet the specific needs of our orphanage compound.

First, we looked at hand-dug wells with hand-pumps.  These types of wells are very popular around Africa because they’re cheap.  You can dig a well with local, unskilled labor and install an pretty low-tech pumping system like the India Mark II or the Afridev or even a rope and washer system and have a well completed that can serve the needs a 100 or so people in a village for probably between $500 – $1000.  The cost-to-impact ratio of these types of wells is fabulous.  Let’s say a $1000 well with India Mark II pump serves a community of 100 people.  That’s $10 / person.  That’s really ensuring that donated funds have maximum impact.  The problem is that the CCC compound has a hand-dug well that’s 18 meters deep and is completely dry and useless for almost half the year because shallow groundwater simply isn’t sufficient in Wolaita to supply year-round water.

Second, we looked at new hand-drilling technology like what is being used by groups like iDE in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia.  This technology involves a human-powered bit apparatus that can drill through soft geological formations down to 200 feet using only local manpower.  These drill teams are charging about $6 / meter (as compared to the $80 / meter that we’ve been quoted).  This type of technology is having a huge impact on communities in the Rift Valley because it’s bringing a consistent water source to farming communities for drinking and irrigation at affordable costs.  A 200-foot well, installed with a small diesel pump, can provide water to a community of a 100+ families.  With drilling, casing and pumping, this kind of deep well could be done for well under $10,000, which could easily provide water for 500+ people with a cost-to-impact ratio of less than $20 / person. The problem is, this technology cannot handle the medium-to-hard geological formations of Wolaita, nor the 500+ feet of depth required for a year-round well in Wolaita.

Third, a lot of people have suggested to us water filtration systems.  Biosand filters have become a popular tool for purifying water in developing countries.  These filters can be developed for about $100 and can serve about 100 people.  That’s a great cost-to-impact ratio; that’s $1 / person to provide clean drinking water.  Obviously, though, the catch is that one needs to have a water source in order to purify water through a filter.  In Wolaita during the dry season, its not only an issue of unclean water, it’s an issue of water period.  If we don’t receive water from the town (we commonly only receive a few hours / week of town water from Dec. – Mar.), we have to rely on “donkey water,” which is water carried in jerry cans on the backs of donkeys from a spring 30 min. away.  As we learned last year, it’s very difficult to run a healthy children’s home of 60 kids when our only source of water many days is by the jerry can.  It would take 1 donkey water carrier with two donkeys all day to make the 6 trips to and from the spring necessary to supply enough water for us to barely function at the home.  Barely functioning meant that drinking water was rationed, toilets weren’t flushed, and cleaning and bathing was limited.  Our issue at the CCC orphanage is less about water quality and more about water access.

So it is very true that the cost-to-impact ratio of our well project for the orphanage is poor in comparison to other possible water projects one could donate to.  You could donate $1000 to an organization installing Biosand filters and impact 1000 people.  You cold donate a $1000 to an organization digging hand-dug wells and impact at least a 100 people.  You could donate a $1000 to an organization involved in hand-drilling technology, and together with 10 other like-donors, you could impact 500 – 1000 people.  Or you could donate a $1000 to our glassofhope project for a well for the CCC orphanage, and only after we raise another $79,000, could you help to impact 60 kids.  If you base it on the cost-to-impact of your donated money, our project does not make sense.

But here’s the thing.  Donating to all those other great water projects doesn’t help get water to the 60 kids living at the CCC orphanage in Wolaita Soddo, because those projects don’t work for the CCC compound.  There is sticker shock with this project, but it is the only way to provide consistent, year-round water for the CCC orphanage.  We only have $20 thousand more to go; please help us keep the momentum going.  Please share, email, facebook, tweet, blog, etc.



Just to put it slightly in perspective…  the two presidential candidate campaigns for U.S. president during the month of July alone received a total of $175 million in donated funds.  I’ll leave it up to the reader to do the cost-to-impact analysis of those funds…