News Archive
April 28, 2015

South Africa Project Update



The EWB-Bergnek Project Team and the Bergnek community are extremely grateful for your interest and support of the Bergnek Water Supply and Distribution project. My hope for this letter is to be able to give you a glimpse of our trip, the people of Bergnek, the hopes they have for their community, and our plans going forward. Our recent trip was spent discussing a path forward with community members and government officials, along with collecting data about their existing water supply and infrastructure.

As you may recall, five engineers from our chapter spent two weeks from late October to early November 2014 in Bergnek, South Africa. The purpose of our trip was to begin the process of assisting the community members in expanding their water supply. Bergnek is a small community of approximately 2,000 people in the Limpopo province of northern South Africa. Bergnek consists of land that has been given back to the “sons of the soil” (or native Africans) after the end of apartheid to generally govern under their traditional tribal structure. Most of the people are Africans who moved there after the end of apartheid from plantation-like farms or other lands they had been forced onto. The government built cinderblock houses, brought in electricity, pit latrines, and provided a basic water supply. The current water system allows for 5 to 26 liters of daily consumption per capita and is available once or twice a week for a few hours. This is less than half of the World Health Organization standard for intermediate water access. As basis of comparison, 65 liters of water are used during the average shower in the United States.

We are working with My Arms Wide Open, a non-profit organization focused on assisting the residents of Bergnek to create sustainable businesses. Without access to enough water, it is difficult for community members to focus on business opportunities. The purpose of our initial trip was to meet with the community members, indigenous tribal leaders, government officials, and My Arms Wide Open, to see if working to help the community expand their water supply would be a good fit for our team and EWB-USA’s values. Along with this, we collected data that we would need to design an expanded system. Data collection included water quality from all the current and potential water sources in the area, documentation of the existing water infrastructure, geotechnical data at key locations, and a rough survey of the community. Overall we found the project to be a good fit for us and we are currently moving forward with designing a system to expand their water supply and distribution network in phases.
The existing system runs off of 3 different wells, two equipped with diesel pumps and one with an electric pump. The community does not have enough diesel to run the pumps more than one or 2 days a week. Some days, due to rain and poor road conditions, it is not even possible to get to these pumps to start them. The existing electric pump seems to be substantially undersized and is not able to pump at a sufficient rate to satisfy WHO standards for Intermediate access.

Based on our initial findings we expect that we will likely need to change out one of the diesel pumps with an electric submersible to allow for extended use of the well regardless of weather conditions, and change out the existing electric pump with another more appropriately sized. Government estimates of the yield for each well indicate we will be able to meet the community’s supply needs solely by upgrading the pumps in the existing wells, but we are working to reevaluate the existing data to confirm this. We are also looking to expand the distribution system to ensure that each household is able to collect water from a tap within 100 meters of their home to align with the WHO standard for intermediate access. Our first contact with Bergnek came through Keith (pictured on the right with his brother and mother), a man who had spent his teenage years in the village and who currently works with My Arms Wide Open to help Bergnek develop its economy. Keith is a remarkable individual. We were completely impressed by the ability he had to move fluidly between various cultural groups, languages, and socio-economic classes, casting a vision for what Bergnek could become. Even as we work and communicate remotely, he continues to drive communication with the project’s partners and collect information we were unable to obtain during the trip.

Currently Keith lives and works in Johannesburg with his family, but often visits Bergnek with his children, as his mother and brother still live there. One night, Keith shared with us what drove him to spend so much of his time working to improve the community of Bergnek despite his full-time job at a hotel and the joys and responsibilities of being a parent. He said that as a young man he looked around Bergnek and saw there was no future for him there; there were few jobs and opportunities. At that point he moved to Johannesburg to try to establish himself. But Bergnek, and the family and friends he had there, never left his heart. Over time, he witnessed too many of the young people close to him die because they did not have the resources to even get to a doctor. Eventually it struck Keith that he could make a difference; he could advocate for his community, and be a force to make things better.

Since then Keith has spent numerous hours volunteering to better the state of his community. He recruited Warren TeBrugge, the founder of My Arms Wide Open, to work with the community to help residents start businesses and break the cycle of poverty. These efforts included starting micro businesses for producing school uniforms and the manufacturing of reusable sanitary pads so girls can stay in school. Now he has brought us in to help expand the water supply. Eventually, Keith hopes to see a fully staffed medical clinic.

Once again, thank you for your support of the EWB-Bergnek Project team and the Bergnek community. Our current hope is to complete the analysis of the existing system and the plans to expand it in time to construct at least some portion of the expansion between August and November of this year. We are working to have a preliminary plan developed in the Spring of 2015 and we will send out further updates at that time. While our volunteers contribute countless hours towards the project and often fund most of their travel out of pocket, without your help the aspirations of the community could not be realized. It is through your support that we are able to positively impact the lives of the people of Bergnek.

Thank You,
-EWB-Bergnek Project Team