Clean Water Access

Eighty-two thousand people in the Kalalé District of Benin in West Africa have gotten the joyful news that their lives are about to change.  The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has awarded a grant to SELF to provide 24 new, solar-pump water stations in the District so that residents no longer have to drink contaminated water.

To put this in perspective, the Kalalé District—with a population of 180,000—has only 113 water sources that are considered sanitary.  A District-wide water survey shows a range of 550 people having access to a single sanitary water source in the best case and 9,500 having access to a single source in the worst case. The reality is that many people cannot rely on these sanitary sources because the potable wells are located too far away for women and girls to easily reach on foot.  So, they often turn to unsanitary water sources closer to home, such as streams or open wells. When asked about where she gets water, a resident told us, “In my village, I have never seen clean drinking water. What we drink here comes from a small, one-meter-deep stream that has dirty, contaminated water. Many of the babies do not survive because of diarrhea they get from the water.” Nineteen percent of deaths in Benin can be attributed to water-borne disease.

Since 2011, SELF has installed 20 wells in the Kalalé District—a small number when one considers all of the villages having to do without.  But thanks to this grant from the MCC, we will now be able to provide clean water to an additional 24 villages in Benin.

The solar-pumping systems SELF will install are direct drive, meaning they do not rely on batteries.  During the day, solar electricity is generated to pump water from an aquifer to an elevated reservoir.  After sundown, water stored in the reservoir is delivered by gravity—making water accessible any time of day. 

The systems’ other advantages include:

Technical Reliability
With only a few moving parts, the likelihood of having to replace the pumps within the next 10 years is low.  If that should happen, however, spare parts will be on hand, and, if necessary, they can be sourced in-country.

Reliable Water Output
Before installing solar pumping equipment, we test well bore holes to ascertain their viability and water pressure.

SELF will work with the local communities in setting up a fee collection system whereby water users pay a small, affordable fee for water – a common practice in the region.  With the fee system, the water stations are fully sustainable, meaning they have the potential to generate enough funds to cover maintenance and repairs indefinitely. 

The most qualified people to attest to the benefits of the new water stations are those who have already had one installed in their village.  Yerima and Cherifa talk about water station installed in their village of Danganzi in Benin:

“When we visit neighboring villages and talk about our solar pump, people are very envious.   They know we have something precious.”


“Before the water station, we had to travel to Marigot [a nearby village] for our water for cooking, drinking and cleaning. The problem was that we noticed the water from Marigot had organisms—larvae of all kinds—that were growing in our water jars.  We had to consume the water anyway.  Our children got sick all the time with diarrhea and other maladies. They had little sores all over their skin. It was sad to see them suffer.”


“In the old, open well, we found things you couldn’t imagine—animal carcasses, plastic packaging, wood debris, and mosquitoes.  We took a lot of risks just for a basin of water.   Since the water station was installed, we need only turn on the faucet, and we instantly have water – and it’s clean!  Now, we don’t have to search for water in dangerous places.  We only have to spend a little time meeting our needs for water.  The rest of the time we can work in the fields or do other things.”

Cherifa - Powering a brighter 21st century.

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Since 1990, SELF has completed projects in more than 25 countries and pioneered unique applications of solar power such as for drip irrigation in Benin, health care in Haiti, telemedicine in the Amazon rain forest, online learning in South Africa and microenterprise development in Nigeria.

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