Handpump standardisation in sub-Saharan Africa: Seeking a champion

by Jess MacArthur, IDE Bangladesh

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Download the new RWSN Publication “Handpump standardisation in sub-Saharan African”

As a millennial, I have to admit: I really enjoy technology and innovation. I love to read innovation blogs and to dissect innovation theory. So just over two years ago as I began researching how innovation intersects development in the world of handpumps, I felt a bit stumped. An estimated 184 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) today rely on handpumps for their domestic water and many of these use designs that were developed before I was born. Yes, that makes me young and maybe that make you feel old. But mostly, it made me sit back and think. Is this beneficial or is this concerning? At the time I was helping Water4 navigate the policy-sphere around new handpump integration.  I wanted to know why certain handpumps have more dominance in certain areas and how innovators can pilot in the sector with both evolutionary and revolutionary designs.

This paper is what has come out of my search to reconcile the tension between up-and-coming ideas and tried-and-true strategies; the no-beards and the grey-beards; the innovators and the very experienced. In the publication I explore three major topics:

  1. what handpumps are installed in each country in sub-Saharan Africa;
  2. what types of policy govern these installations and
  3. how these policies are enforced and complied to.

These polices are called standardisation policies and I have spent the last two years studying and pondering how they impact the modern Africa. I was able to spent time on the ground in Zambia, Togo and Ghana. I sat for days over books of standardisation theory in the law libraries of Oxford University. I interviewed pump designers, pump manufactures, sector experts and development organisations. I talked to someone with knowledge of every pump-using country on the continent. I may have even chatted with you.

As I began to unravel the tangled web of standardisation in SSA three things became apparent:

  1. just because it is written down doesn’t mean it is;
  2. both standardisation and innovation are necessary for sustainable development; and
  3. there is no silver bullet.

Every 10 years or so the development world seems to shift to a new theoretical frame and I continue to hear rumblings that we are moving towards a surge in innovation – just like we saw in the 1980s. I hope so. I really do. I hope we see the passion and energy that characterized a decade that made such incredible positive impact on water access and technology through innovation. I think all we need now is a champion.

Download the new RWSN Publication “Handpump standardisation in sub-Saharan Africa: Seeking a champion”

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit https://www.rural-water-supply.net/ to find out more

11 thoughts on “Handpump standardisation in sub-Saharan Africa: Seeking a champion”

  1. Good work, handpumps are very important for the people. Some recent developements are missing however, like for instance the “BlueZone” O&M approach with more durable handpumps.

    A good example of that can be found in Gambia and Swaziland, where rural handpumps are sustainable at very low cost for the users in a FairWater Public Private Partnership Approach, using the durable Dutch BluePump.

    see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqLwHsMrjjk

    Paul van Beers
    FairWater Foundation

    1. Hi Felix – you are correct that this issue has been around for more than 20 years, this is not re-inventing the wheel. It is a review of where handpump standardisation has got to in different SSA countries. Some countries have followed India and Bangladesh by having regulations on what handpumps are allowable (e.g. the the U2, U3, U3M in Uganda, or the Ghana Modified IMII – both variants on the India Mark II), other countries, such as Liberia have 90% Afridev’s because that’s is the only pump for sale in Monrovia. Have a read of the publication and get back to us on whether you think standardisation still has a role to play in improving the reliability and sustainability of rural water supplies. Thanks again for your comment!

  2. Felix,

    No one is trying to reinvent the wheel. They’re just simply trying to improve on what has already been invented. The capacity and static depths traditional hands pumps can practically yield and pump from under human power has not really advanced since first introduced. A newer design is needed!

    I understand the need for a low-cost manual pump for developing countries. However, in reality, that’s why there are so many pumps that are broken down. You can’t get durable quality parts in a low-cost product. A stronger more durable pump is needed. The cost for a champion pump will be more, but the overall
    savings and benefits will exceed that of conventional hand pumps.

    A manual pump like the WaterBuck Pump can be a great asset for developing countries. It uses the same down-hole pump systems successfully used in the windmill industry and can exceed the depth and capacity of 12-foot diameter water pumping windmills.

    Watch a young man pump 8 more gallons of water in one minute than what a 12’ windmill can at peak performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Rx5uuE2vao

    1. @Felix

      It is not about re-inventying the wheel, it is about getting “Fair” key performance indicator (KPI) of rural water supply, this is in fact the $xD per year number, which is calculated by:

      1. $= How much US$ communities spend each year on repairs
      2. D= How many days per year the pump is broken

      A “Fair” ratio would be 25×1 (= 25) to about max 50×3 (=150)

      However, the actual handpump KPI is often 200×20 (= 4.000) in areas where there are a lot of pumps, to about 500×50 (=25.000) in remote areas. In areas with deeper groundwater these values are often 25% higher because of more technical problems.

      To keep the KPI as low as possible, preferably below 100 $D, is is the REALchallenge for the water sector. We think that the actual situation is not “Fair” and that the communities are far to dependend on NGO charity without a realistic business plan for long term maintenance.

      A more reliable pump is not the ONLY requirement. To keep the KPI below 100 you need to have a solid and reliable dealer network that can have a “fair” profit from selling, installation and after sales service and repair.

      Fortunately, more and more NGOs start to realize that it is not “wong” to have a business oriented approach for O&M and that it is wise to invest a bit more in durable pumps from a reliable dealer and not to look for the cheapest offer from a bulk importer of standard pumps that cannot provide after sale service.

      That is also the main argument against “Standardisation”. it simply does not contribute to a healthy professional sealer system with reliable service.

      That is why we have set up these “BlueZones”, just to make things more “fair”, and so far the data from 5 years we can keep the KPI below 100.

      We have now over 1.000 BluePumps in the field, and more transparant statistic data comes in about the BlueZone KPI. It all shows good results, so there is good hope that we can start solving water problems for the rural people in this sustainable way.

      Paul van Beers
      FairWater Foundation

  3. In addiation on the argument against “standardisation”, i ment of course standardization on so called “Public Domain Pumps” (PD-pumps), which are handpumps that can be made and sold by anyone in fact. And the competition is only on price, not on quality.

    The other problem with PD pumps is that is becomes more and more vague what is now the real original PD pump. For instance, there are many cases that NGOs buy PD-pumps that are not conform with latest recommended updates, so in fact they are often rejected or not perfoming as they should. The quality controll becomes a real issuse and once delivered you have no waranty.

    All this fuss is not really helping the people we try to help with our water projects, so i was never so much in favor of the whole PD pump anyway, and certainly not in favor of standardizing on one or more PD pumps.

    Paul van Beers
    FairWater Foundation.

    1. In my experience, maintenance and the availability of spares are bigger issues than efficiency and a quantum leap forward on these scores was taken with the introduction of the India Mk2 handpump. Instead of coming up with alternatives, we should be looking at improving this basic mark especially in terms of reliability. If the whole world was using (say) the India Mark 3, many of the problems mentioned above would go away. If this is a problem with badging (eg in Pakistan) then let’s call it the WHO Mark 3?

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