A Clean Glass of Water is Beyond the Reach of Hundreds of Millions of People

By Matthew Cullom

June 20, 2015

For the month of June, SELF is joining Global Giving to raise $17,000 to provide villagers in the Kalalé region of Benin with a solar-powered potable water system. The need is dire, especially for the children, many who die from waterborne diseases. Go to to learn how you can help.

Californians, in the midst of severe drought, are being forced to cut back their water consumption. They take shorter showers and let their lawns and gardens wither. The situation is critical to be sure, but could be so much worse.

Imagine the reality faced by Kalalé residents in northern Benin during the region’s annual dry season. As shallow wells and riverbeds dry up in the Sudano-Sahel region, villagers, mostly women and children, must walk for miles in search of water. Many leave home in the middle of the night to trek to distant rivers and shallow pools that dry up as the sun rises. With cleaner sources unavailable, they must settle for this polluted water, often sharing it with wild animals that have made the same long trek. With no way to adequately treat the water, which is fraught with bacteria and parasites, villagers suffer from high rates of waterborne illnesses. For Kalalé residents, access to clean water is a human right in short supply.

Before SELF’s intervention, local girls were pulled out of school to help their mothers bring water from wells to their houses or gardens.

According to UNESCO, 45 percent of Benin’s population is exposed to unsafe water. ( Overall, waterborne illnesses account for over 19 percent of all deaths each year. Malaria, bilharzia (a disease caused by parasitic worms), cholera, and other diarrheal diseases are constant threats. Children with under-developed immune systems are the most vulnerable, with over half of children’s health center visits attributed to malaria and diarrheal diseases. ( Benin, which ranks 166 out of 186 in the Human Development Index, is desperately trying to reach the Millennium Development Goal of improved water sanitation. To do so, however, it must find a way to provide a quarter of its population access to clean water.

What is striking in Benin is that, unlike its northern neighbors, the country does have adequate under and aboveground water sources. (

However, many Beninese towns or villages lack the infrastructure necessary to safely and efficiently extract water. Like Kalalé residents, nearly half of the population (43%) cannot access developed water sources and relies instead on unsafe sources such as open, shallow wells or easily contaminated streambeds. ( Diesel pumps, a conventional tool used to extract water from safer, deep wells, are incredibly expensive and prone to fuel shortages and breakdowns.

SELF saw this as the perfect opportunity to fight water insecurity using solar energy. We installed ultra-reliable solar pumps to transport water from deep wells to sealed, above ground containers, eliminating the risk of contamination. With six closed water storage tanks, located in the center of five villages, residents now have easy, uninterrupted access to potable water.

On the left, local Children enjoy safe, clean water from SELF’s storage tank. On the right, Kalalé villagers celebrate the installation of SELF’s solar-powered water system.

Compared to diesel powered alternatives, solar pumps are cheaper and more durable as they eliminate the cost of diesel fuel and maintenance inspections. Diesel pumps need routine oil and filter changes and periodic part replacements, while solar panels only need weekly cleaning (a simple hosing down of panel surfaces to maximize PV output). Diesel pumps have an estimated life expectancy of around five years. Solar pumps can last twice as long. In conjunction with our local partner, ADESCA, we have trained Kalalé residents on how to repair solar systems. All six pumping stations continue to run smoothly and not one solar module has broken down since their installation in 2011.

In addition to providing clean drinking water, we combined solar pumping systems with high-tech drip irrigation systems that transport water from rivers and above ground reservoirs directly to the roots of the plant. This requires less water and labor than traditional irrigation techniques and boosts agricultural yields by almost 25 percent. With less water dedicated to irrigation, wells function longer into the dry season, enhancing water security for all villages in the region.

Many villages in Benin still have a great need for clean drinking water. Our goal is to install pumping systems to provide clean water to all of Kalalé’s villages and eliminate water insecurity throughout the region. You can help us by contributing to the solar water system we are building through our partnership with Global Giving. Visit

Access to safe water is a basic human right and yet 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. (Source: United Nations) Water resources are becoming increasingly strained. Experts project the demand for water to increase 55 percent by 2050. Most of this demand will be driven by developing nations like Benin. At SELF, we believe that investing in renewable energy solutions is the fastest, most reliable path to ensuring the right to safe water in Benin and the rest of the developing world.


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