Date of Award


Document Type

Master's report

Degree Name

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Michele H. Miller


John K. Gershenson


This report is a case study of how Mwangalala community accesses water and how that access is maintained. Mwangalala community is located in the northern tip of Karonga district in Malawi, Africa. The case study evaluates how close the community is to meeting target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable access to safe drinking water, and evaluates the current water system through Human Centered Design’s criteria of desirability, feasibility, and viability. It also makes recommendations to improve water security in Mwangalala community.

Data was collected through two years of immersive observation, interviews with 30 families, and observing two wells on three separate occasions. The 30 interviews provided a sample size of over 10% of the community’s population. Participants were initially self-selected and then invited to participate in the research. I walked along community pathways and accepted invitations to join casual conversations in family compounds. After conversing I asked the family members if they would be willing to participate in my research by talking with me about water. Data collected from the interviews and the observations of two wells were compared and analyzed for common themes.

Shallow wells or open wells represented the primary water source for 93% of interview participants. Boreholes were also present in the community, but produced unpalatable water due to high concentrations of dissolved iron and were not used as primary water sources. During observations 75% of community members who used the shallow well, primarily used for consumptive uses like cooking or dinking, were females. Boreholes were primarily used for non-consumptive uses such as watering crops or bathing and 77% of the users were male.

Shallow wells could remain in disrepair for two months because the repairman was a volunteer, who was not compensated for the skilled labor required to repair the wells. Community members thought the maintenance fee went towards his salary, so did not compensate the repairman when he performed work. This miscommunication provided no incentive for the repairman to make well repairs a priority, and left community members frustrated with untimely repairs. Shallow wells with functional pumps failed to provide water when the water table levels drop during dry season, forcing community members to seek secondary or tertiary water sources. Open wells, converted from shallow wells after community members did not pay for repairs to the pump, represented 44% of the wells originally installed with Mark V hand pumps. These wells whose pumps were not repaired were located in fields and one beside a church. The functional wells were all located on school grounds or in family compounds, where responsibility for the well’s maintenance is clearly defined.

Mwangalala community fails to meet Millennium Development goals because the wells used by the community do not provide sustainable access to safe drinking water. Open wells, used by half the participants in the study, lack a top covering to prevent contamination from debris and wildlife. Shallow well repair times are unsustainable, taking longer than two weeks to be repaired, primarily because the repair persons are expected to provide skilled labor to repair the wells without compensation.

Improving water security for Mwangalala can be achieved by improving repair times on shallow wells and making water from boreholes palatable. There are no incentives for a volunteer repair person to fix wells in a timely manner. Repair times can be improved by reducing the number of wells a repair person is responsible for and compensating the person for the skilled labor provided. Water security would be further improved by removing iron particulates from borehole water, thus rendering it palatable. This is possible through point of use filtration utilizing ceramic candles; this would make pumped water available year-round.