Soldiers from the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion traveled from Camp Lemonnier to Ribta, a village in Northern Djibouti, to examine the village’s well on Sept. 13.
Ribta is located in a small valley in the mountains of the Tadjoura region, far from any city and public water systems; the villagers there rely on well water for drinking and watering their crops.
“The well’s been giving them trouble only recently, making them vomit and have diarrhea when they drink it,” said U.S. Army Capt. Mark Olving, Team Leader, Civil Affairs Team 305, 404th Battalion. “It’s made life difficult. People have left Ribta to go to other villages for water, kilometers away.”
U.S. Army Maj. Michael Ahrens, 404th Civil Affairs Functional Specialty team, environmental health scientist, attended the trip to test the well water with a portable colorimeter and a portable spectrophotometer.
“We test for specific things,” said Ahrens. “Nitrates, nitrites, sulfates, copper, coliforms and E. coli. We may be able to determine what is causing the gastrointestinal issues by testing for common well contaminants.”
Ahrens ran the well water through various tests, which took a day to complete. The coliform levels were incredibly high; however, no E. coli was present in the water. Other contaminates that would be capable of causing sickness were also high, indicating that the well would have to be drained and cleaned.
With this information, the team is working with local officials to consider treatment so the well may once again provide drinkable water to Ribta village.