What’s the record for the deepest hand dug well you’ve heard of or seen? 20 feet? 50? 150?

Digging wells by hand is a dangerous job, especially in loose material. It is less dangerous when the well is dug in consolidated material or rock. The typical hand dug well in East Africa is usually 25 to 45 feet deep. Occasionally the wells reach 60 feet. However, things get interesting as you move into the more arid areas where scarcity of water makes people chase deeper for precious water supply. Wells in these areas may reach 75 to 90 feet. The unit ‘feet’ is used here because it’s smaller and hand dug wells are not expected to reach great depth, when ‘meter’ unit becomes preferable.

Now in my experience in Kenya the deepest hand dug well I have sited and supervised its digging was 164 feet. That’s exactly 50 metres by hand. However, wait for it – get into Somalia and ‘hand-dug well’ takes a new meaning. I once found a team digging a well and stopped them at 223 feet, that is, 68 metres. This is because I took data that showed the site would be dry anyway.

A few months later, we sited an 80m well and had it dug successfully to 82m. However, the craziest is one that I measured – all 104 metres of it, is in Galgaduud region of Somalia. All done by hand, a team of 6 men rotating in shifts of 2 downhole for 30 minutes every round. No special breathing equipment; nothing. Moreover, the wells are generally not wide – less than 1.2m across. Deepest had dug well record, perhaps.

The length (depth) to which man goes for water!

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