In Memoriam: Ken McLeod – India Mark II development lead

en McLeod, who died of cancer in Cairns, Australia, on January 23rd at the age of 88, was recruited by Unicef to support India’s village water supply programme from 1974-1978, and played a pivotal role in the development of the India MK II hand pump.

by Rupert Talbot (former UNICEF and past Chair of HTN/RWSN)

Remembering Ken

Ken McLeod, who died of cancer in Cairns, Australia, on January 23rd at the age of 88, was recruited by Unicef to support India’s village water supply programme from 1974-1978, and played a pivotal role in the development of the India MK II hand pump.

The Government of India’s fourth, five year development plan (1969-1974) envisaged the ambitious goal of providing drinking water in the hard rock, drought prone regions of the country, using innovative down-the-hole-hammer drilling and deep well hand pump technology. Drill rigs were to be imported by Unicef and locally made, cast iron hand pumps, supplied and maintained by Government. In 1974, at the end of the plan period, hand pump surveys concluded that 75% of some 40,000 installations were not working. The viability of drilling and hand pump technology was in question and there was the real prospect of UNICEF, the Government of India’s main partner, withdrawing support. The programme was in serious crisis.

Ken McLeod, his 1942 Jeep, and Myra who designed the first India MK II hand pump poster, New Delhi, 1976 (Photo: Rupert Talbot)

Water well drilling was virgin territory for Unicef in the early 1970s and Unicef’s Executive Board had been divided over the decision to invest in such costly technology in the first place. It was now faced with the hard option of either scrapping the programme or keeping faith. It was a close run thing. Fortunately, the ‘pro’ lobby won with the eminently wise decision to halt the supply of drill rigs until the hand pump problem was fixed. Which is where Ken McLeod comes in.

Ken was a pragmatic, no–nonsense, straight talking, tell-it-as-it-is Australian with a diverse engineering background which ranged from marine and civil engineering to blast hole and water well drilling with down-the-hole-hammers. He had an innate sense of what would probably work and what wouldn’t. Obstinacy was also a hallmark. A serious asset as it turned out. Once he had made up his mind it was difficult to persuade him otherwise. And he had a droll sense of humour. His repertoire of stories and anecdotes are legendary within the water well fraternity. It would seem that seriousness of purpose combined with good humour are prerequisites for successful development enterprises. Ken had both these qualities in spades.

Over the course of the next 4 years it fell to Ken to identify, coordinate, argue with and cajole, myriad organisations and individuals to develop what became known as the India MK II hand pump. This was an extraordinarily complex, collaborative venture, involving pioneering NGOs in Maharashtra, birth place of the fabricated steel Jalna, Jalvad and Sholapur pumps, spearheaded by Raj Kumar Daw and Oscar Carlson (names participants in the RWSN Sustainable Groundwater Development Forum will be familiar with); WHO, who were independently trying to develop their own cast iron ‘Bangalore Pump’; The Government of India, whose programme was in dire straits and who were being prevailed upon by the country-wide hand pump industry to continue with the supply of their cast iron products (‘junk pumps,’ in McLeod Speak); and an engineering enterprise, Richardson and Cruddas, a Government of India undertaking tasked with making prototype and then production pumps. It took a McLeod to handle all of that.

Ken McLeod, Arun Mudgal (Richardson and Cruddas) and Rupert Talbot, MK II test area, Coimbatore, 1975. A ‘what to do ?’ moment after experimental cylinders had failed. (Photo: Rupert Talbot)

It is getting on for 50 years since it was eventually agreed by all parties that the Sholapur pump would form the basis of a new design and we were able to make and test the first dozen prototypes under the deep water table conditions of Coimbatore, Southern India. The fact that the India MK II then went successfully into mass production was largely due to Ken’s clarity of vision, direction, smart technical choices and perseverence.

I spoke with Ken for the last time two weeks before he died. We talked of those heady days of trying to get the MK II programme off the ground, of the internal arguments, external battles and technical problem solving in the field and in the factory.

His voice was strong and his mind as clear as a bell as he recalled people, places and events in great detail and he spoke warmly of those free spirits with their out of the box thinking who strove to make better hand pumps.

He was amazed to learn that there are now several million MK IIs in India alone and that it is exported to 40 or more countries. But hugely disappointed that the third party quality assurance procedures set up in his day and honed over the years to become the corner stone of the MK II programme under Ken Gray, had been allowed to slide back and that MK II look-a-like ‘junk pumps’ are being exported from India to Africa. That, we agreed, is a great tragedy.

There were many brilliant, dedicated people involved in the development of the India MK II. Ken never claimed any credit for it himself, but we all know who led the charge. It wouldn’t have happened without him. He was the right man in the right place at the right time. It needed his force of personality, tough and uncompromising ways, solid understanding of technical issues and absolute determination to get the job done in the face of industrial strength, bureaucratic wranglings. Aussie grit personified.

After Unicef, Ken McLeod worked with Shaul Arlossoroff and his UNDP-World Bank Hand Pumps Project, initially based in Nairobi then out of Australia, spending much of his time in China where I have no doubt he brought the same skills and energy to bear as he did in India.

Pragmatic and stoic to the very end he told me he hadn’t got long and was resigned to being on the ‘home stretch’ as he called it.

No funeral for Ken. No grave, no head stone, no epitaph. He wanted none of that. Instead, he has the lasting legacy of the India Mark II hand pump itself. Millions of them in fact.

Kenneth Robert McLeod, 1932 – 2020


Rupert Talbot

External support programs to improve rural drinking water service sustainability: a systematic review

This is a guest blog by Meghan Miller. Meghan is completing her PhD in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has conducted both her masters and doctorate research through The Water Institute.

The Water Institute recently published a systematic review on external support programs (ESPs) that target rural, often community-managed water systems. ESPs are of vital importance to long-term functionality and sustainability of rural drinking water service, as all water systems fail eventually and rural water committees can lack the resources and/or capacity to rehabilitate the systems independently.

The purpose of the systematic review was to determine how ESPs in low-, medium- and high-income countries are described and measured. The aims of the analysis were to: create a typology of ESP activities based on ESPs for rural drinking water systems; identify barriers to ESP access and implementation; and determine how ESPs effect the sustainability of rural water systems.

So what do external support programs do?

The types of ESP activities described in the literature were: technical assistance, financial assistance, monitoring and regulation, communication and coordination, administrative assistance, capacity-building, and creation of policies and enforcement of regulations. Technical assistance, financial assistance, and capacity-building were described in the majority of publications included (66%, 57%, and 53% respectively).

Need for a typology of activities and precise language

The language used to describe ESPs was not consistent between publications about low-, middle-, and high-income countries. When ESP activities go underreported, knowledge transfer is limited and support for ESPs is reduced. Communication and coordination between ESP providers is further limited by inconsistent and imprecise language. We identified twenty-one terms that were used to describe ESPs. Some terms imply that support occurs at specific phases or with specific actors. Post-construction support, for example, assumes that projects have a single construction event. The terminology should reflect how and when support is provided. The better ESP terminology is defined, the better we can compare ESPs in different settings.

External support was the most commonly used term (27% of publications) and we propose using the term “external support programs” to describe the continued support for water systems. Based on our analysis we propose the following definition for ESPs: “the set of activities provided by NGOs, government, private and community-based entities to community-member managers to ensure continued safe operation of a drinking water system.”

What are the barriers to external support programs?

Barriers to ESPs were grouped into six categories: inadequate resources, inadequate ESP support, restrictive policies, lack of communication and coordination, little access to ESPs, and insufficient training of water system managers. The barriers to ESP varied by country income classification. Lack of communication within ESPs and between ESPs and stakeholders was most frequently mentioned in publications about high-income countries (36% of the publications); lack of communicate was often characterized by unclear roles and responsibilities, lack of trust between ESPs and stakeholders, inability to resolve disputes and misunderstanding of local context. Insufficient training of staff and insufficient resources for ESP wa identified as the most common barriers to ESP in publications about low and lower-income countries (57% and 45% of publications respectively).

Little comprehensive monitoring and assessment of ESPs

Twenty studies evaluated the effects of ESPs on water service levels. Most publications described ESP activities but did not undertake data collection to assess the programs. Without a rigorous assessment of ESPs, it is difficult to identify the most effective components of ESPs. Proper monitoring requires that stakeholders understand the activities and models implemented by ESP providers. Presence of ESPs and access to spare parts were used as the indicators of ESP activity by studies assessing the effect of ESPs on households and water systems. Better monitoring would include indicators that measure the six types of ESP activities, such as the frequency and attendance rate of water committee training events. Indicators should also measure the effectiveness of different providers – these outcome indicators should be developed according to the type and purpose of the ESP. Additional assessments of ESPs will help stakeholders identify which ESP activities and models promote sustainability. Support programs can then incorporate those that promote sustainability.

Majority of publications report on ESPs for point sources

The majority of publications addressed ESPs for point sources. The focus on point sources ignores water sources in community institutions and the implementation of more complex water systems. Community institutions, such as schools and health care facilities, have different water use characteristics and management structures than community drinking water systems and support to these community institutions will require adaptations to existing ESPs. Piped water systems, compared to point sources, are more complex, have larger one-time repair costs, typically require repairs more frequently, may require specialist technicians, and may require more expensive parts. Descriptions of ESPs in community settings and for more complex systems will improve knowledge about how ESPs for can be adapted to better serve community needs.

Further reading

The full article is available as:

Miller, M., Cronk, R., Klug, T., Kelly, E.R., Behnke, N., Bartram, J., 2019. External support programs to improve rural drinking water service sustainability: A systematic review. Sci. Total Environ. 670, 717–731.

Figure: Model of the variables that affect and are affected by external support programs based on data from quantitative and qualitative evaluations of external support programs and review of the literature. Plus signs represent a positive relationship and negative signs represent a negative relationship. The dashed lines represent relationships that have been identified in the literature, but were not assessed in the ESP evaluations. Credit: Authors.