Somaliland: A Drink of Fresh Water in a Hot Country


Ideas Worth Doing: A fresh drink of water in hot Somaliland

By: Mariana Oud

What idea could more ‘worth doing’ than turning salt water into clean drinking water at low cost? And indeed a lot has been done since Winddrinker won the TEDxAmsterdam Award last November. At the exact moment I’m typing this blog, Abdurahman Ahmed (a.k.a. Abdi) is on a flight from Amsterdam to Hargeisa, Somaliland, where he will start building the first Winddrinker right away. Sjoerd Dijkstra, initiator and project coordinator, brings us up-to-date.

As soon as the team recovered from the first euphoria of winning the TEDxAmsterdam award, they got busy.

Sjoerd: “While our contact in Somaliland filed applications for the required permits to build the Winddrinker, and sought out the right people for the local team that is actually going to build it, the team in the Netherlands started ordering all the parts needed to build the fist Winddrinker. The perfect windmill to drive the desalination pump is not -as you might expect- a Dutch product, but a Turbex Windmill we found in South Africa; it was shipped from South Africa to Somaliland four weeks ago and should be arriving there as we speak. The desalination pump was also purchased in South Africa. Other parts, like the transmission and the reversed osmosis system, where purchased or custom-made in The Netherlands. In May we shipped them in a container at Rotterdam Harbour, along with a 100 m3 water storage tank, pipes and connectors. The shipment will arrive approximately at the same time as Abdi.”

Start digging!

Sjoerd: “Tomorrow, a Friday, is not a working day in Somaliland, so Abdi can rest from the flight and get reacquainted with his homeland. On Saturday, first thing in the morning, the local team starts digging the well (actually it’s not really digging, it’s jetting). The well will be only 5 meters deep, so the power of the pump can be used mostly to push the salt water through the membranes that filter the salt from it. The Winddrinker could also desalinate water directly from the sea, but we chose a location 400 m. from the sea, so the earth does the first part of the filtering process for us. The percentage of salt in the groundwater is much lower than in the seawater. On this location Winddrinker will be six times more productive than it would be right by the sea.”

Turn on the power switch

If everything goes according to plan, Sjoerd will turn on the power switch of the first winddrinker this September. “We’ll have to see if our planning is realistic,” he says. “Working hours are different in Somaliland and during the summer months there is a blistering heat that can make work impossible… But I am not complaining! After all, we only have to build the Winddrinker there; the locals have to live in that scorching heat, and up to now with very little water… It’s thrilling to be able to make a change there. We won’t miss the champagne, we will be toasting with delicious fresh drinking water!”