We're Almost There with Well Repair

I recently ran across Integrated Community Development International (ICDI), one of many charities working to bring clean water to rural Africa. One thing sets ICDI apart - a focus on well maintenance. ICDI claims 60% of wells in the Central African Republic are non-functional. As others have noted, it’s far more attractive for donors to give to building a new well, or school, or something else very concrete than to provide funds to help ensure the previously-provided infrastructure continues to serve the community well.

So I am wishing ICDI much luck in popularizing the the idea of long-term giving; a shift in donors’ perspectives is absolutely crucial to fixing the way foreign aid is currently working. But at the same time, I think they miss a key idea.

ICDI funds maintenance teams to take care of the wells. These teams rove around the countryside visiting well locations, and the villages pay a monthly fee for their services. The fee is 8 USD a month, which may not seem like much to us, but is more significant when over sixty percent of the country’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day. ICDI themselves admit it takes time for the villages to figure out how to fund this fee.

What’s missing here is an investment in Africans, not just Africa. One of the fundamental ideas of Distributism is that of empowerment, that it is both economically advantageous and morally responsible to give people ownership of their own means of production. We shouldn’t be trapping these villages into dead-end support contracts they’re forced to pay to keep their clean water - we should be encouraging the right to repair by teaching them to repair their own wells.

Of course, not all villages will be able to spare someone to learn the ins and outs of well construction. But if we help one villager start a well repair business that services his neighboring towns, that’s one new business birthed and several less wells requiring constant funding from foreigners.

It’s time we not only see the heart-breaking conditions of the world’s poor, but the potential inside of them just looking for an opportunity to break out.