Ding dong dell

Pussy’s in the well.

Who put her in?

Little Johnny Flynn.

Who Pulled her out?

Little Tommy Stout.

Many Australians of Anglo-Saxon folk lineage will know this 16th century English nursery rhyme about a cat down a well although it is likely less popular today due to the connotation of animal cruelty.

Wells have recently been the subject of world news coverage due to the frantic efforts of rescuers to save children who have fallen into them.

Rayan, a five-year-old boy in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, was followed Haider, by a nine-year-old  who became wedged in the narrow shaft of a dry well in remote Zabul, in the province of southern Afghanistan.

Despite heroic attempts to reach them, neither child had survived this ordeal. Only last week another tragedy involved thirteen women and children plunging down a 15 metre deep well in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

They had been watching wedding celebrations while seated on a slab laid across an abandoned well when it suddenly collapsed under their weight sending them hurtling among debris to the bottom.

Uncovered wells are an equal hazard for wildlife, especially in India where leopard, jackals, hyenas, even elephants have become trapped after falling in. In an interview with the BBC, Suresh Wadekar,  a Forestry Officer in the west Indian State of Maharashtra said he had rescued 137 leopards, a protected species during the past twenty years.

Anand Bora, a renowned Indian wildlife photographer, took this picture of an exhausted leopard whose rescue, supervised by Mr. Wadekar, saved it from drowning  after the poor creature had been swimming at the bottom of a well for some twenty-four hours.

Human encroachment on natural habitat in Asia as well as Africa, sees increasing accidents involving wildlife. Buffer areas marking a zone between forest or grassland and human settlement is dotted with open wells which sees animals entering after prey fall frequent victims to misadventure.

With US specialists assessing there may be at least 35,000 abandoned wells in the state of Iowa alone, one dares not imagine how many exist in India with its huge rural population dependent on well water.

Architectural monuments, early ‘step wells’ with stairs descending to water level, some even with rooms where travelers could cool off, date back thousands of years.

Splendid structures of which less than a score remain are not however the shaft wells common in rural areas of South Asia where women —always women—are the water carriers, risking their lives to haul water before walking miles back home carrying heavy jars.

The Modi government needs to accelerate education highlighting the danger of uncovered wells in India while simultaneously implementing measures to ensure they are made safe. Something to be likewise considered in Sri Lanka where a crane was required to lift a 4 tonne elephant upside down to safety from a well concealed by undergrowth and which somehow miraculously survived.

Initiatives such as filling in dry wells, covering those providing access to water or  encircling them with a low wall are deemed essential.

And while it is accepted that developing nations may lack the means to finance such programs, unless something is done, more human and wildlife lives will be lost when the cost of frequently failed rescue efforts actually outweigh the reparations of making wells secure.

Photo below of a safely covered well in rural Gambia, West Africa.

A safe covered well in rural Gambia, West Africa (photo Christine Osborne)