The Hand-pump project: 35 years on, what have we learned? 

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Saul Arlosoroff, based in Israel.

I grew up in a kibbutz which is an Israeli Agricultural institution and became interested and experienced in agriculture and rural water supply. I studied Engineering in Israel; my Masters was on the design of modern pumps, mainly vertical. After some time working on the topic, I was then sent to the USA to work in the rural water sector, thus becoming a Rural Water “expert”. When I returned home, I climbed the ladder to become a national water manager, mainly in the rural sector. Later I was selected to be a senior water manager in Ghana.

The 1980’s was the International Decade of Water Supply and Sanitation. At the time, UNDP and the World Bank established the Water & Sanitation Program (WSP); one of its flagship projects was the Hand-pump Project. Having become experienced in rural water supply in developing countries, I was recruited by the World Bank to be the manager of this project, with staff and involvement in about 40 countries, along with John Kalbermatten from the World Bank, and staff from UNDP, UNICEF and representatives of Donors who were active in the sector. I participated in 3 multi-expert meetings on what should be the role of the rural water sector actors; and what should be the main activities to solve the problem for those in real need.

These meetings of experts lead to the agreement that the Hand-Pump should be the main tool for Rural Water Supply as it was financially feasible, most villages were above or close by to the centers of demand, and the source of water in the ground, at a reasonable depth, and can produce clean water relatively cheap. However, most of the Hand pumps at the time were yard pumps from non-poor countries which were not adequate for the needs of the rural populations in developing countries.

It was decided that a new variety of pumps would have to be developed for that purpose, tested by experts in a testing facility and in the field. The testing facility was selected to be in the UK. Donors were selected in approximately 20 countries where conditions were suitable and where Governments agreed to undertake field testing.

After 2 years, the new pumps were ready for field testing in about 20 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; about 500 pumps were installed in the Donor-promoted testing sites. The dominant characteristics were simplicity of maintenance and local manufacturing adaptation to groundwater depth and water quality, and the ability to serve from a whole village to a few users.

Millions of these Hand-pumps are still operating globally and they have turned to be one of the main sources of rural water supply. What I have learned through this experience was that rural water supply is one of the most important global issues, which will need important financial resources including from technical and financial partners for many years to come. The organization of the rural water sector differs depending on the country but often suffers from a lack of prioritization by governments.

The Hand-Pump project is considered one of the most important global examples of successful multi-organization cooperation around the world and showed that what seemed impossible proved possible. Our final report “Community Water Supply: the Hand pump Option” (1987) is still one of the defining publications in rural water supply and 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 Rural Water Supply Network is partly a continuation of this programme, which proves that success in access to water services for rural populations can only be achieved through cooperation between countries.

Community Water Supply: the handpump option (1987) Author: ARLOSOROFF, S.,TSCHANNERL, G., GREY, D., JOURNEY, J., KARP, A., LANGENEGGER, O., and ROCHE, R.

About the author: Saul Arlosoroff is a senior water engineer and management consultant. He has been involved in rural water supply in many countries including Israel, Zambia, and Ghana. He is best known for his seminal book “Community Water Supply: the Hand pump Option”.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at] for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.