Providing Safe Water for All: How One Nonprofit is Leveraging Trenching Technology to Bring Clean and Affordable Water to Africa

Water4 uses Ditch Witch RT45 trencher

Water4 is making strides in combatting the water crisis with Ditch Witch Equipment

According to the World Health Organization, over 2.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water at home – and 40% of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. This lack of a basic utility has led to millions of dollars of philanthropy from private and public Western organizations. While traditional water charity focuses on providing a source of fresh water, one Oklahoma-based nonprofit is working to eradicate the water crisis by creating sustainable infrastructure.

Water4 has provided clean water to 1.6 million people since 2008 and is working to solve the water crisis by establishing and facilitating water infrastructure across Africa. This infrastructure is modeled after utility systems in the United States. There is a water well, underground pipelines that distribute water to homes, schools and clinics and – just like in more established parts of the world – there is a charge for the water used.

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“Traditional water charity has been focused on westerners digging a well for a village, taking photos and leaving. But we found that the well eventually breaks, and the village goes back to being without fresh water again because the villagers don’t consider the well their own,” said Dick Greenly, founder and CEO of Water4. “The only way that the water crisis will be resolved is by having villages invested in their own system – and that means we need to create infrastructure and have people pay their own way to keep the infrastructure running.”

Impactful Beginnings

Water4 was born out of a philanthropic endeavor of another company owned by Greenly and his wife, Teri. PumpsOK is an Oklahoma-based wholesale supplier of water pumps. In 2005, PumpsOK installed the first solar pump in mainland China and brought running water to rural villages that hadn’t had access to that technology in their 10,000-year history.

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After the pump installation success, the Greenly’s received an outpouring of support and financial donations. Eager to combine their philanthropic endeavors with their business backgrounds, they channeled the funds into creating Water4. They found a simple, by-hand well-digging system that was much cheaper than standard machine-dug wells and combined it with their own affordable hand-pump, which happened to come from a Leonardo da Vinci design. From there, they trained workers in Africa on how to install and maintain the wells.

then branded their water system NUMA – which means “spirit” in Greek – and began to operate their established utilities as a clean water business. They determine the most easily affordable price for water in each area they go to and then set the water price at that level.

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“We did comprehensive surveys and found that, overwhelmingly, these villages not only want to pay for their water, they insist on it. It’s a point of pride for them to have a water system they can take care of,” Greenly said. “Many of these places are too impoverished to invest in creating infrastructure, so that’s where we come in. We can help villagers build it, teach them how to run it and keep the water flowing.”

Going the Distance

Today, Water4 is operating over 1,000 utilities across 13 different countries in Africa and is getting water to over 350,000 people per day. Their growth has been exponential – their initial budget in 2008 was $80,000 compared to their 2021 budget of $10 million. And they are the largest provider of water to health clinics in the country of Ghana.

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However, their goal is much more ambitious – Water4 wants to install infrastructure and clean water country by country until the water crisis is defeated across Africa. In addition to funding and obtaining buy-in from local villages, accomplishing this goal will require a sizeable trenching task. Water4 is set to trench and install water pipeline across a quarter million miles of the African landscape.

In Sierra Leone alone, Water4 will need to trench up to 200 miles to install the required number of water lines.

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Since the beginning, the primary method of trenching and installing pipeline for Water4 has been through manual digging. Water4 partners with over 500 African businesses and contractors across the continent to install, maintain and operate their water utility systems. This year Water4 is set to use the first powered trencher in the company’s history – the Ditch Witch RT45 ride-on trencher, which was donated to Water4 by Travis Wilkey, CEO of Ditch Witch of North Carolina. The RT45 arrived in Sierra Leone in spring of 2021.

“It was an amazingly generous act from Ditch Witch and Travis, and one that will completely change our process and accelerate our ability to provide clean water,” Greenly said. “In the past, we’d hire a dozen people to spend three weeks digging a half-mile ditch. Ground conditions are full of hard clay, so those digs can be grueling. With the RT45 on the ground, we’ll be able to finish that same job in one morning.”

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The RT45 will serve as a force-multiplier as well. “With faster production time, we’ll be able to expand our reach,”Greenly said.

A System for Success

The RT45 will allow Water4 to provide water to entire districts of African countries, a goal that was unattainable when hand digging was the primary method of installation, but a goal that will set up Africa to have infrastructure similar to Western counties.

“Setting up infrastructure and having people pay for their own water is the only way the water crisis will be solved. When your water is broken in the United States, you don’t call up four friends to fix it, you call the city and they take care of it. That is how we can achieve true water sustainability in Africa,” Greenly said.

Now that the RT45 is on-site, Water4’s goal is to provide universal access to water across 15 countries in Africa by 2030. That will bring access to clean, affordable water to over 7 million people.
“We’re here to end the water crisis. We know we can’t do it ourselves – we’ll need to depend on the help of others like Ditch Witch – but we can be a guide for how to get it done now and in the future.”

This article was contributed by Ditch Witch.

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