So I’m in Monrovia this week running a 4 day writing course for twenty staff from across a dozen ministries and government organisations who will be working together to produce the 2014 Sector Performance Report (SPR). Today we did some fieldwork – the group split into three and each visited a community in or near Monrovia.
We wanted to collect some data to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of data collection, presentation and analysis. The first challenge came yesterday when I asked the group to agree on three questions, which would asked to at least 20 people at each visit site.
The first question to be agreed on was “Where do you get your drinking water?”. Pretty straight forward, except that this morning when I wrote up the questions I accidentally wrote “Where do you get your water?”. The consequence was interesting – one team asked about “water” rather than “drinking water” and they were the only ones where some of the respondents gave multiple answers: “Sometimes we get our water from the handpump, sometimes from the well, sometimes from the pipeline” said one woman, interviewed by Watara Sackor, from the Ministry of Public Works.
In this short blog series on the successes of India Mark II, Afridev and Bush Pumps, however the challenges and set-backs that were encountered by these designs shouldn’t be discounted. Nor should it be overlooked that there are also successful proprietary designs, and self supply options like the EMAS Pump and the Rope Pump. However it is worth highlighting the heroic efforts of those people from all the different countries and organisations and what they achieved for rural water supplies worldwide.
In today’s debate, the humble hand-pump gets the part the villain: the rusting carcass in the corner of too many villages, or the subject of frightening statistics about how many are probably not in use at any one time, and how long they are out of service for. Many of the problems, framed in that weaselly catch-all “sustainability” have remained – doggedly – since the 1970s and before: pump manufacturing quality is often poor, boreholes are drilled badly, supply chains for spare parts fail, pump mechanic skills are lost, not enough money is collected to pay for the maintenance and replacement costs.
As part of that UNDP and the World Bank established a joint Water & Sanitation Program (WSP, which still exists as part of the World Bank) and one of its flagship projects was the Hand-pump Project, led by Saul Arlosoroff, which rigorously tested all the hand-pumps around the world that they could get their hands on. Their final report “Community Water Supply: the Hand pump Option” (1987) is still the defining text in hand-pump literature.
The hand-pump project also defined Village Level Operation & Maintenance (VLOM), the concept of making hand-pumps easier to maintain by the users so that minor breakdowns could be repaired quickly. The India Mark II was not a VLOM pump because it required specialist tools and some skill and strength to make repairs to the pump cylinder down in the borehole. This was addressed through a design revision, imaginatively called the India Mark III. However the hand-pump team throught they could still do better and so two handpump design projects began.
In the mid 1960s, drought ravaged India, and the Government of India asked UNICEF for help with improving access to water through borehole drilling. In the following years, the emergency drilling campaign evolved into a broader national programme to improve rural water supplies, but the attention was focused on the drilling and the boreholes. No one gave the hand-pumps that went on them much thought. That all changed in 1974.