World Water Day – Is the Hand-pump dead?

Broken India Mk II in Eritrea (Skat)

In this short blog series on the successes of India Mark II, Afridev and Bush Pumps, however the challenges and set-backs that were encountered by these designs shouldn’t be discounted. Nor should it be overlooked that there are also successful proprietary designs, and self supply options like the EMAS Pump and the Rope Pump. However it is worth highlighting the heroic efforts of those people from all the different countries and organisations and what they achieved for rural water supplies worldwide.

In today’s debate, the humble hand-pump gets the part the villain: the rusting carcass in the corner of too many villages, or the subject of frightening statistics about how many are probably not in use at any one time, and how long they are out of service for. Many of the problems, framed in that weaselly catch-all “sustainability” have remained – doggedly – since the 1970s and before: pump manufacturing quality is often poor, boreholes are drilled badly, supply chains for spare parts fail, pump mechanic skills are lost, not enough money is collected to pay for the maintenance and replacement costs.

The hand-pump has fallen from grace. It is a job that has been completed. It is no long a source or recipient of innovation. The eyes of donors and technologists are focused on extending piped supplies and solar pumps to rural areas. Maybe they are right, but even then the hand-pump will be with us for at least another generation to come, because there are millions of them out there, if for no other reason.

The international public domain hand-pump standards have their home at Skat, which is also where the RWSN Secretariat resides. However, the generation of hand-pump experts active over the last four decades have either reached or are nearing retirement.

We have a duty to make sure that their hard-won knowledge and experience is not lost.

There are some new directions that hand-pump design could go: one is computer aid design to do thorough stress analysis on the designs that were generally specified through trial and error; a second is tapping into the communications revolution. If a hand-pump could be fitted with a small, robust sensor then breakdowns could be reported and fixed more quickly,  and the data collected could be used identify patterns that could improve the design of the pump,  or the service that supported its use. There are also failures in the way that hand-pumps are bought and sold and it is clear that feedback from pump users is not going back to manufacturers and purchasers. Better communications and help this, and bring greater transparency and value  this market. Work is already happening in these areas and the challenge is find those good ideas and enable the most effective to be scaled up.

Is the handpump dead?


Committed professionals at UNICEF, WSP and many NGOs and Governments have shown that dramatic change is possible. We are now entering a new era where focus is now firmly on life cycle costing, service delivery, monitoring and evaluation. We will soon have great new tools to help take good WASH technologies to scale.

Today, as we celebrate World Water Day 2013, we shouldn’t forget that it is the hand-pump that physically lifts water out of the ground and into people’s lives.

Author: SGF

Lover of learning. Beauty is found in the mysterious.

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