Oklahoma-based Water4 has provided clean water to 1.6 million people since 2008 and is set to increase that number in 2021 with Ditch Witch technology.
You can't attend school. You can't wash your hands. You can't grow a garden. These are some of the challenges facing people in Africa who do not have access to clean water. According to the World Health Organization, more than 2.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water at home – and 40 percent 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 for a single village, and there are many organizations that have set out to provide water relief, one Oklahoma-based nonprofit is making strides in combating the water crisis by focusing on a bigger scale.
Water4 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.
"Traditional water charity has been focused on westerners digging a well for a village, taking photos and leaving," said Dick Greenly, founder and CEO of Water4. "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. 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."
The idea of 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.
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 the wells and trained the villagers on how to maintain them.
Water4 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.
"We did comprehensive surveys and found that, overwhelmingly, these villages not only want to pay for their water, they insist on it," Greenly said. "It's a point of pride for them to have a water system they can take care of. 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 facilitate keeping the water flowing to each house, school or clinic."
Today, Water4 is operating more than 1,000 utilities across 13 different countries in Africa and is getting water to more than 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.
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 mi. to install the required number of water lines.
Since the beginning, the primary method of trenching and installing pipeline for Water4 has been through manual digging. Water4 partners with more than 500 African businesses and contractors across the continent to install, maintain and operate their water utility systems. However, 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. Our ground conditions are full of hard clay, so those digs can be grueling. Once we get the RT45 on the ground, we'll be able to finish that same job in one morning."
The RT45 will serve as a force-multiplier as well.
"With faster production time, we'll be able to expand our reach," Greenly said. "We're going to need even more workers to maintain pipelines, operate our NUMA water stations, train new workers and facilitate our systems across multiple villages. With the RT45 handling the manual work, we're going to redirect our largely African workforce to higher-paying, less back-breaking jobs."
The Waters Ahead
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," Greenly said. "When your water is broken in the United States, you don't call up four friends and go fix the infrastructure, you call the city and they take care of it. That is how we can achieve true water sustainability in Africa."
Now that the RT45 has arrived, 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 more than 7 million people. Water4 also is consulting with leading charities and relief efforts across the world, including the United Nations, on their water charity process.
"Water charity has been around for 50 years in some places, and our attitude is that if we're here in 50 years, we've failed," Greenly said. "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."
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