New RWSN publication on EMAS Technologies in Bolivia

EMAS has been promoting low cost technologies for rural water supplies in Bolivia for over 30 years – with considerable success. EMAS technologies comprise manually drilled wells, a locally fabricated pump and rainwater harvesting technologies. EMAS are combining low-cost water supply solutions with a relatively high level of service at the household. Today RWSN publishes an independent assessment of the EMAS technologies. The authors, from the University of South Florida, undertook surveys, semi-structured interviews, sanitary inspections and functionality tests in 86 households.

Please visit to download the publication.

EMAS is the Spanish acronym of the Mobile Water & Sanitation School in Bolivia.  An organisation established, and run by Wolfgang Buchner for over 30 years.  EMAS technologies are counted as contributing to the MDGs and SENSABA; the Bolivian national government agency responsible for rural water supply is a proponent of household water supply technologies in rural areas. Bolivia has a history of developing low-cost water supply technologies, particularly manual driller and handpumps. In fact, an estimated 20,000 manual drillers well systems are being used throughout the country.

The flexi-pump is a simple design comprising PVC, glass play marbles and rubber, thus allowing it to me fabricated by local technicians. The fact that the pump can collect water from significant depths to a tank above the ground is a key selling point.  It is meant one to 6 families. The pump is reported to cost US$ 30 to 45 (excluding the drilling). As you start to ask questions about its longevity, the research found that only one of the pumps of the 79 surveyed was non-operational. It was noted that after 11 years of operation, some pumps were working less than optimally. Repairs can and are undertaken locally.  Some people prefer the Baptist pump due to its higher flow rates.

Manual drilling comprises a combination of techniques, and can be undertaken by trained technicians. Relatively small diameters are drilled, and a polyester sleeve/sock is used to prevent fine materials from entering the pump. The researchers observed that the techniques were widely used by small business, with Reyes as an example of a small rural town where most of the population has a manually drilled borehole in their yard. Here, the drillers charge US$ 140 for drilling and completing a 15m well, including the EMAS or a similar pump. Although EMAS promotes the installation of an apron, many wells observed did not have this installed. Of the 75 wells surveyed, 73 were reliable, providing water for 12 months of the year

EMAS rainwater harvesting systems comprise below-ground or above ground storage tanks. Various sizes up to 7,000 litres are promoted. The below ground tanks use a cement sand mortar mix, whereas the above ground tanks are ferro-cement. Uptake to date has been rather limited, although the technology is now catching on in Cachilaya after several years of promotion.

In terms of finance, 63% of the systems surveyed were paid for fully by the households; 5% sing loans and 28% with partial subsidies from an implementing agency or local government. There are places, such as Somopai where poor families apparently cannot afford the wells. However, this is a topic which could be explored and researched further; to understand the reasons and options for such families.  There are examples of labour exchange rather than cash payment for well construction.

EMAS has trained technicians from all over Bolivia in these technologies, and runs regular training courses, which can also be attended by people from overseas. EMAS has moved beyond Bolivia’s borders to other Central and Latin American countries, Africa and Asia. EMAS support typically consists of supporting in-country groups and organisations with training. However, technician training needs to be accompanied by promotion of the news technologies in order to bring about their adoption.

“Added value” is at the core of the EMAS concept.  This means that water users can have a much higher level of service than they would with a community supply.  Water is piped into taps in the house, and people can even have a shower and solar-heated water. How is this possible, you may ask? Well, the EMAS manual pump is able to lift water from below ground and up into an overhead tank, from which it can be distributed throughout the homestead. As people become accustomed to a high level of service, they are more likely to fix it when something breaks. The analogy with electricity supply is a good one – when you only use it for light you may just revert to a lantern when it stops working. However if the electricity is used also for a fridge, television and computer, which you are used to, you are more likely to value it and do something if the power fails. Not all households surveyed had chosen the added value option, but they have access to volumes of water within their homestead.

If you want to learn more about EMAS, please contact Wolfgang Buchner on: or visit

To learn more about the research, you can contact: Mike MacCarthy on

Should you wish to share your comments about the EMAS approach with other RWSN members, you can do so through the appropriate RWSN online discussion forum, e.g.:

Wishing you a productive and enjoyable weekend!

Author: Kerstin Danert

Skat, Switzerland and Director of the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) Secretariat

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