Can we improve access to drinking water by raising skills in Madagascar?

Charles Serele examines how UNICEF is working with the government in Madagascar to improve water supply in the country
Can we improve access to drinking water by raising skills in Madagascar? Can we improve access to drinking water by raising skills in Madagascar? Can we improve access to drinking water by raising skills in Madagascar? Can we improve access to drinking water by raising skills in Madagascar? Can we improve access to drinking water by raising skills in Madagascar?

UNICEF staff testing a new borehole in a rural community of south Madagascar

Charles Serele

Madagascar is an island nation, located in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, with a population of 25 million. The country is the fourth-lowest performing in the world in terms of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Only 51 per cent of Malagasy people have access to an improved water supply compared to an average of 68 per cent for sub-Saharan Africa. This number drops to 34 per cent in rural areas. The semi-arid southern regions of Madagascar have the country's lowest water supply coverage and are highly vulnerable to chronic drought. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of people in the south of Madagascar continue to use unimproved water sources and consume unsafe water. Therefore, it is essential to increase the number of drinking water sources and improve the quality supplies. UNICEF's drilling activities in the south of Madagascar has been challenged by the complex hydrogeology of the area; the low yield of boreholes and high-level salinity of water; limited knowledge of the regional hydrogeological context, including a lack of groundwater data; and weak capacity of the drilling sector. These constraints result in a high rate of drilling failure in the south of Madagascar.

As part of its water, sanitation and hygiene programme in Madagascar, UNICEF is committed to supporting the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (MWSH) to address gaps in the drilling sector. UNICEF in collaboration with the government organized a training course, entitled "Drilling Techniques and Supervision" in February 2018. The training targeted stakeholders who manage water supply projects, supervise or drill boreholes.

Training structure and activities 

Fifty-four participants working in government departments, drilling companies and consultancy firms attended the training course.

The course provided participants with an overview of what is required to achieve professional and sustainable drilling in Madagascar. For each three-days of training (eight hours per day), five modules were delivered.

Course modules

  • Module 1: Professionalization of the drilling sector
  • Module 2: Methods of borehole siting
  • Module 3: Construction of boreholes
  • Module 4: Supervision of boreholes
  • Module 5: Management of drilling data

To enhance individual knowledge and ensure sharing of experiences among participants, the overall approach used to deliver the course involved a mixture of lectures, interactive discussions, group exercises and presentation of drilling videos. For each module, extensive reading material from RWSN and UNICEF was shared. For the group discussions and activities, specific questions related to challenges of the drilling sector in Madagascar were asked to participants. That provided an opportunity for them to learn from each other and to reflect on what can be improved and to debate contentious topics such as, "should drillers be paid for negative boreholes?"

Sample discussions questions

  • What are the most common causes of boreholes failure?
  • What can be done to improve boreholes siting in Madagascar?
  • Why are some boreholes better than others?
  • What can be done to improve the professionalism of the drilling sector in Madagascar?
  • What are the key elements that a borehole supervisor should pay attention to?
  • What is the cycle of drilling data, and what actions should be taken to facilitate collection, storage and sharing of drilling data?


All participants were very committed and showed great enthusiasm for learning and improving their technical knowledge in borehole drilling and supervision. During the training evaluation, participants expressed their satisfaction with the course content and the relevance of the topics that were covered.

Comments from participants

  • "This training helped me a lot to enhance my technical knowledge in borehole drilling. I think that after this training, I will be a good player in the drilling sector in Madagascar."
  • "The training allowed me to clarify grey areas on best practices in boreholes drilling and supervision, especially in the development of boreholes, the performing of pumping tests and the determination of boreholes' performance."
  • "This training course was very helpful. It brought me a lot of know-how and motivated me to become more professional and integrate this technical knowledge during the supervision of drilling projects."

Lessons learnt 

Lessons learnt from this first training conducted for the WASH sector in Madagascar are:

  • Run the course periodically (twice a year) for a better capacity building of the drilling sector;
  • Synthesize RWSN's resources in the form of shorter technical notes that can be used as a guide during fieldwork;
  • Link future courses with field-based training to better illustrate best practices in drilling professional and sustainable boreholes;
  • Strengthen the government's procedures manual by incorporating UNICEF's technical notes on the mapping of boreholes' salinity, the index of negative boreholes and procedures of borehole development and pumping tests.

Next steps

A field-based training in drilling professional and sustainable boreholes will follow. Similar training was organized by UNICEF and PRACTICA in July 2017 to raise skills of manual drillers;

  • In collaboration with the MWSH, gather all existing data of the south of Madagascar to develop an online database to easily share boreholes and groundwater data and information with all partners;
  • Encourage and support the drilling sector and the government to create an association of mechanical and manual drillers in Madagascar.

Additional initiatives implemented by UNICEF

In addition to the training course, UNICEF is involved in several initiatives in collaboration with the government to raise drilling professionalism, and increase water supply coverage to local communities:

  • Harmonized data collection template: UNICEF developed a unique template for the collection of drilling log and pumping tests data. Drilling data must be recorded in this template attached to bidding documents and shared with all partners. UNICEF Madagascar applies the rule of "no data, no payment".
  • Online database for borehole and groundwater data: The accessibility and sharing of cumulative knowledge and data of boreholes greatly enhances chances of successful boreholes siting. To make data accessible to all partners, an online database was developed using the Google Earth platform, a public web mapping and sharing tool.
  • Mapping risks of drilling failure: To properly site a borehole and reduce the rate of failure, the risk of drilling a negative borehole (dry, low yield or salty) should be categorised and mapped. UNICEF undertook a study for the mapping of groundwater salinity and developed an Index of Negative Boreholes (INB) to provide guidance to drillers during the process of siting boreholes. Additionally, the INB allows for setting out contract payment procedures tailored to the identified risks.
  • Mapping groundwater availability: In collaboration with the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, UNICEF explores innovative technologies to improve access to safe water for local communities. This initiative consists of combining satellite imagery with hydrogeological data to identify the most suitable sites for borehole siting and drilling in drought-affected areas.
  • Groundwater monitoring system: UNICEF is working with partners to develop an early warning system to monitor the seasonal fluctuations of groundwater across the south of Madagascar. As this region of the country faces frequent drought events, this monitoring system is important to foresee the risk of depletion of water levels due to climate change.
  • Technical guidance notes: UNICEF produced specific technical notes for drillers and drilling project managers on the mapping of borehole salinity, the index of negative boreholes, and procedures for borehole development and performing pumping tests.
  • Sector-wide workshops: Two sector-wide workshops were organized to harmonize drilling practices and agree on basic sector performance and accountability principles.

Webinar on capacity strengthening for professional drilling

Findings and knowledge gained from this training course were shared during the RWSN's webinar on professional drilling in Southern Africa in which champions for borehole drilling professionalism in Madagascar, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe shared their experiences in strengthening drillers' professional capacity to manage projects, understand the groundwater resource and introduce groundwater regulations. Recordings of the Webinar are available at:

Course resources


The training course was facilitated by Charles Serele, UNICEF Madagascar, and organized under the supervision of the Chief of WASH, Silvia Gaya, and the support of the WASH team.

For additional information, contact UNICEF Madagascar on

Charles Serele is a hydrogeologist who works for UNICEF Madagascar as a WASH Specialist. He provides management and technical support on all aspects of water supply projects and develops innovative solutions to map and reduce risks of drilling failure. He is the author of several technical notes that provide guidance to the drilling sector