Stop the Rot – Stakeholder perspectives on handpump corrosion and quality – Part 2

A summary of the second part of the RWSN webinar (April 2022)

The findings of the ‘Stop the Rot’ study on handpump* corrosion and component quality was presented at an RWSN webinar in April 2022, attended by 135 people from over 60 countries. What were the reactions of those that attended the webinar and what is next?

In this second blogs of the series, I try to summarise the perspectives shared by the audience as well as the questions and responses. In case you would like to read a summary of what the discussants said, click here.

Groundwater mapping
In the webinar chat, it was noted that that mapping pH levels, and thus identifying areas where pH levels are lower than 6.5 and at risk of causing rapid corrosion of galvanised iron (GI) materials would be a good starting point. Solutions for such areas are needed, whatever the pH level, as all people need access to suitable drinking water service.

Alternatives to GI riser pipes
In cases where the water depth is less than 45 meters, the Afridev, which uses PVC rather than GI offers an alternative pump to the India Mark pumps. However, for countries that have locked themselves in to an India Mark II/III pump, it is a big issue to move to using an Afridev. However, it may be a viable option, despite the need to retrain handpump mechanics and communities as well as ensure the supply of different spare parts.

Practical solutions to avoid using galvanised iron (GI) riser pipes on India Mark pumps put forward include the use of uPVC riser with stainless steel couplers, or stainless steel riser pipes with stainless steel couplers. The fully stainless steel option is being promoted in Uganda. At depths greater than 45 meters, it is also worth considering solar pumping options, with use of PVC, or stainless steel riser pipes.

Suppliers attending the webinar pointed out that the above mentioned components could be availed in both Zambia and Uganda. However, the grade of stainless steel is also important, with one supplier stating that “Stainless Steel Riser Pipes should be of AISI 304 grade if you want to control the corrosion. Nowadays for cost cutting Stainless Steel AISI 201 or 202 grades Riser Pipes are used in most of the countries”. Good quality stainless steel does not corrode as rapidly as galvanised iron, but the quality of stainless steel varies, as does the quality of galvanisation. While there are countries where replacing GI with stainless steel has been successful, this does come at a cost. And, whatever the material, quality assurance is required.

One participant explained that after ten years of experiencing the same issue with corrosion, their organisation switched to using PVC pipes. Other organisations are also opting for PVC. However, as Stop the Rot reports point out, these options are not specified in the current international standards or in specifications issued by the Indian Bureau of Standards. There is need for alignment, and the specifications should provide alternatives that have been adequately tested.

Efforts to prevent corrosion
Change takes a long time, but UNICEF has taken steps to prevent rapid handpump corrosion, and international procurement from India by no longer procuring GI components. While there could still be some cases where there is local procurement of GI with partners, UNICEF is trying to stop that too. Further, galvanised iron is no longer in the UNICEF supply catalogue.

The need for the donor community to better understand costs
The call by Ron Sloots for a stronger involvement and larger responsibility of the donor community to address the issues raised by Stop the Rot was supported by several people in the webinar chat. One participant noted that there is more emphasis on infrastructure cost rather than service costs, and called for a paradigm shift to service provision and sustainability. Another participant shared the link to a recent publication: Donor’s Guide to Rural Water Service Delivery. A participant from Rotary, which works in multiple countries, informed the group that they are focusing on Life Cycle costs, not just implementation costs, which allows higher cost for quality materials and capacity development to offset the cost of ongoing operations and repair over the life of a well point or water distribution system.

One participant stated very clearly, “the new dawn government wants lowered costs, how can we specify stainless steel couplers which will turn out to be higher than the usual GI pipes. Many of our decision makers do not fully understand the problems in the rural area. How can this be addressed to stop the rot of corrosion?” This is a key issue, as highlighted by Ron Sloots. Decision makers need to fully understand the true cost of quality service delivery, and any ideas to do that are most welcome (see contacts below).

Emerging approaches
WaterAid informed the participants that they are strengthening their own internal contracting and procurement processes for borehole drilling, as well as exploring alternative management models for rural water supply services (beyond community management). Further, the organisation is supporting local service providers and authorities to enhance asset mapping, service performance monitoring, district-wide planning and full life cycle costing assessments to inform its advocacy at higher levels of government.

Involve and inform handpump mechanics and area pump minders
In the case of any changes to the materials used, it was pointed out that it is essential that handpump mechanics/area pump minders are trained accordingly, with a participant from Uganda stating that one of the challenges is that handpump mechanics working in rural areas are not updated on the availability of better quality handpump parts and the supply chain.

Whave in Uganda are undertaking a programme that tries to move away from repetitive maintenance, and to continuous operation and maintenance. There is clearly need for awareness raising on this issue, right to local level, and this webinar is part of that process.

Regulation and quality assurance
The India Mark and Afridev pumps are mainly manufactured in India and exported to Africa and other regions. UNICEF has recently been invited to sit on the handpump section of the committee of the Bureau of India Standards, which is a major development, given the lack of influence there in the past. This has partly come out of the Stop the Rot project, and raising the profile of the issue, leading to UNICEF seeking out how to influence policy within India.

Specific questions and responses

The future of handpumps: one participant asked whether “we still need boreholes fitted with hand pumps. I guess we can reduce the risks with submersible pumps installed and overhead tank installed to allow multiple collection of water by taps”. Kerstin Danert, author of the Stop the Rot reports responded by stating “there are still 200 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa using handpumps, and another 230 million who use unimproved sources or surface water. Handpumps are going to be around for a while”.

Handpump sensors: apart from all the actions outlined to Stop the Rot, could remote handpump sensors be a key in monitoring the handpump functionality performance against handpump parts quality. Response – “there is certainly a role for sensors, but the installation needs to be high quality in the first place, and … there is also need for a clear, robust and viable operation and maintenance service to be in place”.

Lead: what about leaching of lead from brass handpump components? Is there any work being done on this? Response – The Stop the Rot report II includes information about the leaching of lead from brass and bronze components, drawing on emerging research. This is an emerging issue, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is in the process of developing a guideline on lead, which is actually a broader issue in water supply systems than brass and bronze handpump components. An informal working group on trace metals has been established by the University of North Carolina and comprises a large group of organisations that are really thinking through the lead issue.

Drilling casing: in Lagos, Nigeria we have the problem of metal casing corrosion (for deep wells) due to salinisation of the coastal aquifers. However, there are some companies that use PVC casing to solve this problem. Response “this problem has also been noted in Kenya, and is documented report II of the Stop the Rot trilogy. Corrosion of steel casing and screen has been observed in certain places there too.

PVC riser pipes: I recall we installed some handpumps in the past with PVC riser pipes. Are there any efforts to look in that line? Response “The Afridev has PVC riser pipes, but it can only reach about 45 m depth. There have been attempts to use PCV riser pipes on the India II with mixed results – some good, but the documentation is weak, and the material specifications, including pipe thickness and type of PVC, or most suitable couplings are not included in the current RWSN/SKAT specifications”. In the case of particularly shallow groundwater, the Tara pump (can lift from a depth of 15m), as well as the EMAS pump, the rope pump and small scale solar pumps may be an option – all rely on PVC pipes.

Quality control: In Zambia, is there a process to control the quality of the pumps and their validity period? If so, is the community involved in this process? Response: “There is no such process to control quality. For now, it is left to the vendor. There are however plans to develop a national technical standard for boreholes which document can contain such controls which can then be used by procurement entities.”

Long and short term solutions

Solving the rapid corrosion and poor quality components problem requires long term thinking and action, with the involvement of basically everyone who is working on handpump solutions for rural water supplies. Regulation is a key issue and it is essential that industry standards are brough in, as described by Christopher Lindsay.

A Stop the Rot action group is being established, and one of the issues that this group will look at is awareness-raising. This group wants to engage with others, and will reach out through the RWSN DGroups platforms and other means. For those who want to continue to be involved, please let us know (contacts below). There is a lot that needs to be done, from advocacy to grass roots work in communities, as well as quality control and regulation. The group welcomes contact from webinar participants and others, including those from other sectors.

If you would like to know more about, or engage with the ongoing Stop the Rot initiative, please contact info@rural-water-supply.net or ask@ask-for-water.ch

* The Stop the Rot research looked specifically at the main public domain handpumps – the India Mark Pump, and the Afridev Pump, and drew learnings from the Zimbabwe Bush Pump, documenting experiences of rapid corrosion and poor quality components.

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