Rural water supply for all, forever: Can Nicaragua become an example?

by H. Holtslag  J. de Jongh

Of the 780 million people worldwide without an improved water source some 80% live in rural areas. In sub-Saharan countries some 35% of the rural water points are not functioning. A country with a remarkable and sustainable increase in rural water supply is Nicaragua. This country has 6 million people of which some 43% live in rural areas. With development aid an innovative low cost hand pump was introduced in 1987.  By 1995 this pump became an integral part of rural water programmes of NGOs and government agencies. Rural water supply coverage between 1987 and 1995 doubled from approximately 27.5% to 54.8%. Of this  27.3%, rope pumps account for 23.6% (85% of the total increase). *

Now, 25 years later the situation is:

  1. Over 70.000 rope pumps on boreholes and hand dug wells. Cost /pump 70-150 US$
  2. Besides handpowered also pedal, horse, engine and wind powered models developed
  3. Some 10 workshops produce the pumps and another 8 outlets sell the pump
  4. 10 to 20% of the pumps are used for communal supply, the rest for self supply
  5. Even pumps that are given away in general remain working
  6. The scaling up is also thanks to the government who made it a national standard pump
  7. Most pumps are funded by Government or NGOs, some 30% is paid by private families
  8. Over 90% of the all pumps are working (Evaluation of IRC) ** This high % is explained by its repairability. (Simplicity, Low cost, decentralised production, spares available )
  9. The maintenance consist of replacement of the rope and pistons and oiling bushings
  10. The shift from imported piston pumps like Indian Mark 2 to locally produced rope pumps increased the rural water supply 3 x faster than countries without the ropepump
  11. The number of imported piston pumps has reduced to less than 2% of all hand pumps
  12. The rope pump is now by far the most used technology for rural water supply
  13. In some areas families now get piped systems or get electricity and buy an electric pump but most families will still use the rope pump for cattle watering or irrigation
  14. A market for 200.000 more handpumps (study Water & Sanitation Program, Worldbank)
  15. Even 8.000 $ boreholes of 70 meters deep are equipped with 140 $ rope pumps!
  16. All this goes on since 1998 without any NGO or external advisors involved
  17. A study of effects of water for rural families (5015 families studied) concluded

– a well increases incomes of small farmers with 30%

– a rope pump on that well increases again average incomes with $220/year **

The total investment in these pumps was USD1 million in training etc and some USD8million in pumps. The result is an increase of the GNP of USD100 million since 1990 due to family rope pumps.  There is much to improve on both pump quality and installation and some workshops make bad pumps but the pumps work and generate income for producers and users. The development in the rural area is notable and rope pumps are a step on the water ladder.

Nicaragua is an example that, where water levels are less than 50 meters and low cost wells can be made,  the rural water supply can increase drastically at investment costs of 5 to 15US$/capita.   What is possible in Nicaragua seems possible in many other countries.


* Alberts, H. 2004 The rope pump: An example of technology transfer. Waterlines 22(3), 22–25.

* Alberts. H.,Zee. J van der (No date). A multi sectoral approach to sustainable rural water supply in Nicaragua: The role of the rope handpump. Available on

** IRC 1995 Nicaraguan experiences with rope pump.

*** Zee. J.v.d Field study involving 5025 families in Nicaragua, CESADE/ICCO

Publication “Smart Water Solutions” of Netherlands Water Partnership. Other booklets in the Smart serie on

Sanitation, Water harvesting Hygiene, Finance and Disinfection , or

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit to find out more

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