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Clean Water for Malawi

Former Deltan drilling water wells in one of the world’s poorest countries

Photos courtesy of Wyatt Emmerich

Far from Mississippi in one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi in southeast Africa, thousands of people without prior access to clean water now have this precious, life-giving resource as a result of water drilling work done by Clean Water for Malawi, a non-profit based in Jackson supported by the Jackson Rotary Club, businesses and individuals.

“Malawi is about the size of Mississippi,” says Wyatt Emmerich, who grew up in Greenwood and is president of Emmerich Newspapers based in Jackson. “It has 16 million people, and 85 percent live in small rural villages. Ten million of these people lack clean water. They drink from putrid, infected mud puddles and often die from cholera, dysentery and a host of infectious diseases. They have nothing the rest of the world needs, so it is very hard for them to acquire what is needed like drilling rigs, concrete and pipe.” Emmerich says it isn’t unusual for women to walk an average of three hours a day fetching water.

“It’s hard to make progress when half your day is devoted to finding water and, then when you find it, it may kill you,” he says. “With a modern drill, pure clean water is abundantly available only 50 feet down. But it may as well be on the surface of Mars to these villagers, many of whom are AIDS-orphaned children.”

In October 2012, Emmerich traveled with other supporters of the project to see first hand the need for the project, and what joy it brings to the people of Malawi to have easy access to clean water.

“It was well worth the trip,” Emmerich says. “Quite frankly, it makes me feel good. There is a huge sense of satisfaction and joy that comes from being involved in something like this. I look forward to going again soon. All the drilling work is done with local people. We just raise money to provide the equipment they don’t have the capital to buy. We’re up to 124 wells now.” Emmerich says the people of Malawi are very friendly, leading to the country being known as “the warm heart of Africa.”

He describes the Clean Water for Malawi efforts as “the poorest state in the union trying to help out one of the poorest countries in the world.” There are about 100 organizations that drill water in Africa, and three in Malawi. Emmerich says they could use many more because the need is overwhelming. “We need to drill 20,000 wells and we have done 124,” he says. “The cost is $10 to $200 per life saved.”

Emmerich has provided financial support and publicity to the project. Emmerich went to high school in Greenwood, and his father was editor of the Greenwood Commonwealth from 1973 to 1995. Emmerich owns newspapers in Greenville, Charleston, Yazoo City, Clarksdale, Indianola, Jackson and Laurel. Clean Water For Malawi is the effort the company has picked out as its corporate charity. “As a practical businessman, I was compelled by the numbers,” Emmerich says. “A $4,000 water well can save hundreds of lives over the life of the well.”

The project was launched in 2011 by Victor Smith, a developer based in Pearl, Miss. Earlier this year, Smith was struggling to continue this well-drilling effort in Malawi when he was offered help from Dr. Bill Manduca, who worked as an internal consultant for Northrop Grumman Corp. before launching The Vantage Point Group, which specializes in helping businesses plan for the future. In June, Manduca became executive director of Clean Water for Malawi.

“Victor had a vision to help people get clean water, and I wanted to help him do that,” says Manduca, a retired Navy officer. “The need for clean drinking water transcends any boundary you can think of, religious, social, political or economic. I felt this was a unique and important opportunity to help make a difference in the world, and the chance to work internationally, as well.”

The effort has been aided by a company in Alabama that manufactures low-cost, shallow well drilling rigs. Clean Water for Malawi has purchased four of the drilling rigs. Owner Tim King invented the rig after wanting to drill a well for an irrigation system at his home. He put the prototype up for sale on E-Bay and it was sold to an archeological company in Jerusalem.

King’s wife, Charlotte, says their company, Hydra Fab has sold quite a few rigs to Christian groups and other charities drilling water wells in Africa and elsewhere in the world. The rigs are lightweight, easy to transport, and don’t cost a fortune. They get in places where big, heavy rigs can’t go in countries with poor road systems. “So they are easy to move around,” King says. “And they work.”

–  Becky Gillette of the Delta Business Journal

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