Handpump corrosion and material quality: A challenge for Burkina Faso and globally

In Burkina Faso, concerns have been raised regarding the high number of handpump boreholes that have failed, or need to be rehabilitated within a relatively short time of their initial construction. Physical audits of handpump boreholes in 2013 and 2014 raise concerns over water quality, inappropriate handpump for deep water and non-conformant pumps. In more than one third of cases, the handpump boreholes will function poorly, or cease to function completely within a few years. It is estimated that investments of between FCFA 0.6 billion (€0.9 million) and FCFA 2.9 billion (€4.5 million) per year are lost due to the installation of poor quality handpumps and other aspects of the construction. In one year, over 130,000 people were provided a water supply service that is likely to break down within a few years.

Despite knowledge of handpump corrosion for over 30 years, it remains a problem in Burkina Faso, as governments and aid agencies have continued to install pumps manufactured with unsuitable materials, leading to high maintenance costs, pump failure and rejection of water sources due to poor water quality. Handpump corrosion is a major global problem which the WASH sector has so far, systemically failed to address, and which will impede the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 6. Concerns cited by experts from a range of countries on the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) online discussion platforms include the following: inadequate quality of materials and components, lack of quality control, unrealistic (low) prices and problematic purchasing practices.

A renewed call to investigate the quality of handpump components in Burkina Faso was raised in early 2017. Samples of the rising main and pump rod were purchased from suppliers in Ouagadougou, and additional samples were from pumps in use or abandoned. All samples were tested for their chemical composition. Analysis showed that of the samples, five of six riser pipes, and two of four pump rods did not conform to international standards for the composition of stainless steel of the specified grade. In particular, the low nickel content means that the components have less corrosion resistance than they would if they were of the specified grade.

The small sample size of 13 components tested in this study is not a statistically representative of the situation in Burkina Faso as a whole but it verifies concerns raised by the Government and drillers themselves. Something is not right with some components available on the market, despite the fact that they are being sold as stainless steel. What we do not know is the extent of the problem, in Burkina Faso, or other countries. What is being witnessed, as documented in the new study published by Skat Foundation, is a failure of “the market” to guarantee high quality materials. Addressing this failure requires solutions from within importing countries, such as Burkina Faso, but also internationally.

This short study has shed light on a number of interconnected issues for Burkina Faso and beyond including:

  1. There is no international body systematically controlling handpump material quality.
  2. The need for further research on the use of stainless steel components to prevent the corrosion in aggressive groundwater is needed.
  3. Many of the handpumps used in Africa are imported from India (and apparently Nigeria too). There is often no connection between manufacture (primarily in India) and installation of the pump (in African countries). Agencies, companies or households installing handpumps are not aware of the extent, and scale of quality problems until it is too late.
  4. Donor interest in handpump hardware is arguably at its lowest in 30 years, and so galvanising interest to develop an international certification process or fund research is extremely difficult. Such an initiative would require not only investment, but also long-term commitment from the large agencies and governments that fund and implement programmes installing handpumps and their maintenance.

It is hoped that this short study will trigger interest by governments, and by research organisations, and international development agencies to explore ways to solve the problems of corrosion and poor quality handpump components. If this is not done, by inadvertent neglect, the global water supply community is arguably preventing rural populations in Burkina Faso and beyond from the benefits of a reliable, basic drinking water supply.

The full study is available for download here: Concerns about corrosion and the quality of handpump components in Burkina Faso and beyond (English and French).

Photo credit: Corroded rising mains being photographed as part of a physical audit of water facilitiesin Burkina Faso (Kerstin Danert).