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January 2003 Report

Food Delivery and Research Rearding Water and Sanitation Needs in the Village of Foutaka, Zambougou, Mali, West Africa

Food    Water & Wells    Garden    Medical   

Report by Karen Marx


Abdoul Doumbia and I traveled to Bamako, Mali, in late Decemer, 2002, then traveled to Segou. Segou is the town where farmers bring their crops to sell, and then it is transported to Bamako and other areas. We were in Segou for a day and a half to locate the quantity of food we wanted to purchase, negotiate the price, hire loaders, and acquire trucks to transport the food to Zambougou. In Segou we were welcomed at the home of Almamyba, a well-known Malian musician who plays kamalingoni and sings spiritual songs. Almamyba was able to negotiate a fair price for the food, as the supply is limited due to the drought in Mali. The price is twice that in 1999 when we last delivered food to Zambougou.

We purchased 37,400 pounds of millet and rice, most of which was delivered to Zambougou and the "Fulani" village adjacent. The villagers were extremely grateful for the food, as their supply was insufficient to feed them until the next harvest, due to the severe drought conditions. There are approximately 2000 villagers in Zambougou, plus about 350 "Fulani" tribe members who are in a cluster adjacent to the main village and consider themselves part of Zambougou. This is a total of 2350 villagers, approximately.

Upon arriving in Zambougou, we were warmly greeted – a better description would be gleefully! The next morning Abdoul, Sekou Camara, Souley Diarra, and I met with the village and spoke with the elders. The late Sekou Camara was a translator, historian, teacher, and storyteller from Bamako who was Abdoul’s longtime friend and had been our translator during all of the six visits to Mali that I have made.

Sekou described to the elders and the village our desire to assist the village in becoming fully self-sufficient. The villagers were extremely receptive and happy with our presence.

Water and Wells

While in Segou, Sekou and I met with the director, Oumar Traore, of "Direction Regionale Hydraulique Et Energie, Region De Segou, Republique du Mali". With Sekou as my translator, I discussed with Mr. Traore The Mali Assistance Project, our efforts to date with food delivery and our research relating to water in the village of Foutaka Zambougou, the meager supply and contamination of existing water. Mr. Traore stated that his office was aware of the water problems in Zambougou. He said that this village was the driest area in the Segou region and had possibly the worst problem with water among all of the villages. He said that he was extremely pleased to know that MAP was working to assist the village and offered his full support and gratitude.

Mr. Traore explained that the land is hard volcanic rock and dry land. He said it is not easy to drill or to find water. He described the efforts over the past 18 years to find water. 139 meters was drilled in Tesserela with no water found. 81 meters was drilled in Zambougou by another NGO with no water found.

Technicians from his staff traveled to Zambougou several months ago to inspect the wells and to assess the problem. They were able to allocate the funds to replace one of the Mark II hand pumps supplied in the 1980’s by Saudi Arabia (it has been broken since 1986 and was manufactured in India – parts are no longer available). They cleaned out the well and provided a French pump called Vergnet. This well produces at a rate of 1.35 cubic meters per hour. Another well dug in 1986 by Saudi Arabia, that has a broken Mark II pump, produces water at a rate of 1.4 cubic meters per hour; however, the water is inaccessible to the village due to the broken pump. It is 93 meters deep. Mr. Traore stated that his office has determined that one good producing well per 400 villagers is required to have sufficient water. The village has approximately 2350 members. Four or five good wells are necessary. However, Mr. Traore said that his office did not have the funds to replace the second Mark II pump or to help Zambougou additionally with their water problems.

I described to Mr. Traore the research and efforts made by EWB-USA (Engineers Without Borders), founded by Professor Bernard Amadei. I asked his opinion of using the Peace Corps model of hand-digging wells to a deeper level, then adding Dutch bricks and concrete liners to limit contamination.His opinion was that these solutions would fail. His strong recommendation was to bring in a drilling rig, create 100-meter deep tube wells, use the French hand pump, and create a concrete platform around the pump to prevent contamination of the wells and of the containers used by the villagers. I requested that one of his technicians go with us to Zambougou to inspect the wells and further discuss the options to remediate the water problems. Siaka volunteered and traveled with us to Zambougou on January 2nd.

On January 3rd, Sekou, Siaka, two village well experts and I walked around the entire village to inspect and measure the wells and the latrines. With a rock tied to a rope, we measured the depth of each well and the level of water in the well. We discussed with the villagers the usage of each well and noted that most of the wells had gone dry. There were dry well holes all around the village – a serious danger for children playing. I asked if children ever fell into the wells, as there is no protection around the holes, and was told that they do. When this unfortunate event happens, it is either fatal or the child is seriously injured.

The village well experts explained that their fathers and grandfathers taught them to never dig a well deeper than the volcanic rock, as the well would cave in and suffocate them. They said that all of the wells were dug to this point and could not be dug deeper. With this information and the expertise of Siaka and Oumar Traore, Sekou and I realized that the only option for an appropriate water solution would be to

  1. Repair and clean out the former Saudi Arabian dug well, then install the French hand pump and replace the broken concrete slab around the pump. The was done by professional engineers and Engineers without Borders.
  2. At the location of one of the existing wells that currently has water and is centrally located to service many villagers, to bring in a drilling rig and dig the well to a 100 meter depth; install a tube well and the French hand pump; and create a large, round, concrete slab with a retaining wall around the pump to provide a clean area to set containers to be filled with water.
  3. Locate a third existing well to dig to the 100 meter depth, as above.

This would provide the village with four good producing wells and a constant supply of water. It also would provide clean, pure water – there would be no need to provide water purification systems. The existing wells are seriously contaminated from the latrines that are ten to twenty feet from the wells, as well as debris that fall into the wells. With the described new deep wells, the contamination from latrines would no longer be a factor and a problem.



We agreed that the committee would search for and locate a plot of fertile land where the women would have a community garden for vegetables. Rather than individual family vegetable gardens, the women will work together. MAP & EWB-USA will provide a rain-catching pond for the garden.

Medical Needs

Being in Zambougou for six days enabled me to realize the serious level of illness among all of the children. One child died while we were there. We drove two children and their mother to the hospital in Segou who were diagnosed with malaria, then sent back home with medicine. Many mothers came to me with their very sick children, hoping that I could do something to help them, and I could do nothing. In spite of the incredible hardship of insufficient food, lack of nutrition, illness, death, and contaminated water, the people of Zambougou were possibly the warmest, most hospitable, most loving, smiling, and talented people I have ever met. When it was time to leave, in one sense it was heart wrenching and in another sense I felt very happy and greatly satisfied to know that we had found a solution to provide clean water and health to these extremely thankful people.

Our driver had driven Siaka back to Segou to report to Oumar Traore and to price the well repairs and digging new wells. After leaving Zambougou, we went back to Segou to meet with Oumar Traore. He presented us with pricing for the work we wish to do. His office has the equipment, the expertise, and the manpower to do the work and to support the village with the changes. We agreed that MAP would work with his office to provide the well repairs. Currently the price to dig two new wells and repair the one pump is about $26,000. Siaka explained that they would bring in a geo-physician, measuring machines to determine the nature of the soil, the type of rock, how deep to dig to have pure water that will last a minimum of a full year through the dry season. Then, they would bring in a truck with a drilling rig. This work was completed in May, 2003.

With great appreciation to all those who have offered support and contributions.


Karen Marx, Founder and Executive Director
The Mali Assistance Project (MAP)
Board of Directors of Witness, a Human Rights Project

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To make a contribution, please make checks out to
“The Mali Assistance Project” and mail to:

The Mali Assistance Project

c/o Karen Marx, Executive Director
3601 Arapahoe Ave, Box 221
Boulder, CO 80303