From Tractors to the Tara pump

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 Erich Baumann, based in Ireland.

I grew up in Switzerland after graduating as a mechanical engineer, and started working in the agricultural sector, designing tractors with reasonable success. Back then, (in the late seventies) the Swiss tractor industry was suffering badly and many factories, including mine, had to close. My marriage fell apart too. I therefore had to look around for another solution. When Caritas looked for an engineer to help them with the development of local tractor manufacturing in Bangladesh, we both found that this could be a match made in heaven.

In 1979, I moved to Bangladesh and started working in the Mirpur Agricultural Workshop and Training School (MAWTS). It was there that the Mennonite Agricultural project (MCC) asked me for help, not with tractors, but with the Rower pump: a simple direct-action pump for small-scale irrigation that had been field tested in Comilla. We worked together with Dan Spare on improving the manufacturing processes and using only local materials; eventually we managed to ensure maintenance was possible without using any tools. The MCC ordered 1,000 pumps; this helped the MAWTS to launch a manufacturing process at large scale. Luckily the MAWTS had a small group of professionals that helped me in identifying small factories that used indigenous technologies.

At the same time another NGO, Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), was implementing a small-scale irrigation project in the north of the country, using treadle pumps. They had a large market for these pumps but not enough manufacturing capacity. This was a great opportunity for some of our trainees, who could set up small rural workshops with relatively little help. So, within a short time, Bangladesh established a manufacturing capacity of about five thousand pumps annually.    

There was a lot going on at the time with regard to irrigation pumps, but the drinking water pumps were not that prominently on the agenda. The World Bank-UNDP Water and Sanitation Programme and UNICEF were keen to get some development started as the No. 6 pumps were not very reliable. They approached MAWTS to see whether the training school would be interested. After several meetings between Ken Gibbs (UNICEF), Tim Journey (World Bank), Md Ikramullah and myself (MAWTS), we agreed that we would, based on the Rower pump technology, work on a direct-action drinking water pump. Many components of the Rower pump could be used for drinking water but some others (for instance the filters) would need to be invented.

Within a few days we had a working prototype which we thought seemed promising, and UNICEF placed an order for 110 pumps with MAWTS. In the good old days, procurement was not fully regulated;  thus the 110 pumps were manufactured and delivered before the purchase order even reached MAWTS. Field testing showed some good results, and we started working on the development of an all-plastic filter. Tim [Journey] found an article about a Robo-screen, tried in Australia. We replicated the design and started producing this screen. Caritas Switzerland sent us a sizeable number of 0.25mm wide milling cutters, which we needed to finalise the production process.

Once the testing pumps design was successful, it was transferred to India where the Indian Bureau of Standards took it up; the Tara pump was then turned into a national standard.

After 3 years in Bangladesh, in 1984, I decided to turn down an offer to join the World Bank-UNDP Water and Sanitation Programme and returned to Switzerland to join SKAT. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) agreed that the World Bank could pay for the services that SKAT would offer. A very fruitful cooperation started and my career as a handpump specialist began.     

The Birth of the Handpump Technology Network, and the Rural Water Supply Network

By 1992, handpump technology had made its way into rural water supply. Many local governments started to accept the point sources with handpumps for drinking water. The policy promotion by UNICEF and the World Bank made handpump supplies viable. With this change in the environment, it became interesting to enter the market; competition was fierce between pump manufacturers. To get some stability into the sector, the UNDP-World Bank project decided a handpump workshop would be helpful. The venue for this workshop was Kakamega Golf Club in western Kenya. About 50 experts came together to discuss the technology aspect of handpumps. 

The meeting point was ideal as Kakamega did not offer many distractions. Even going out for a meal was a bit of an adventure. You had to bring a very strong fork to be able to penetrate the chicken.   

Kakamega was a small town with several thousand handpumps. There was a Finish project that had used India MKII pumps initially and had just recently decided to change to Afridevs. It was a new a concept that you could take the piston out without lifting the cylinder and there was still quite a bit scepticism about the open top arrangement.

As usual in a competitive environment, people felt very strongly about who had the best hamdpump design. The two pumps in the public domain, the India KMII (cheap but sturdy) and the Afridev (with more unusual design aspects) were also fighting for acceptance. The arguments were often dominated by arguments such as “not designed by me”. I too had some strong views on designs and we were discussing design details for hours. The arguments often run up to the early hours; since the Golf club did not have a bar there was also no option of a final conciliatory drink. 

There were some wise men in the group who concluded we were wasting a lot of energy without coming to a useful result. Peter Wurzel and Rupert Talbot suggested that the arguments would go on for ever and it would be best to form a design group: the Handpump design working group. Peter Wurzel should be the chairperson of the group, with Scott Devereux from Consumer Research in England, Leif Hommelgaard from UNDP-WB and me as permanent members.

And that’s how the Handpump Technology Network was formed without defined Terms of Reference or constitution. We concentrated on a few aspects, namely standardisation and handpump specifications.   Rupert, Leif and Peter kept a good eye on me and helped me to find some support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Handpump specifications were generally accepted as key documents for public domain pumps. Piers Cross of the World Bank suggested in 2006 that the Handpump Technology Network should broaden its remit from handpumps only to rural water supply more generally; and this is how the Rural Water Supply Network was born.   

About the author: Erich Baumann is an internationally recognized technical expert in the field of rural water supply with 30 years of experience. He headed the secretariat of RWSN (formerly the Handpump Technology Network HTN) from 1992 to 2008. He was instrumental in establishing the network in supply chains, low cost drilling, self-supply household solutions, handpump research and development, capacity building in local production, technology transfer, quality control and quality assurance, and training. He authored many publications on handpumps and rural water supply which can be found here.

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.

Photo credit: Erich Baumann

In Memoriam: Mansoor Ali

Mansoor Ali, an active early member of the Hanpump Technology Network (HTN), recently passed on.

Main Photo: 5 June, 2003: HTN Meeting at Durban – Vishwas, Raj, Mansoor (R K Daw)

by Raj Kumar Daw

Summer, 1973, Groundwater Surveys & Development Agency – GSDA, Pune had just been created and was acquiring its drilling rigs. The founding Director of GSDA, Dr. Venkataraman, constantly raided the NGOs for whatever he could get. He sent me word that he was coming to Vadala. I was trying my first attempt at rehabilitating an abandoned bore well adjacent to our workshop. The work had gone well. Dr. Venkataraman arrived, passing through Geological Investigation Team, Ahmednagar, headed at that time by Sarma Nidamarthy. Sarma had sent two of his staff with Dr. Venkataraman. Gautam and Mansoor.

That was the first time I met Mansoor.

Continue reading “In Memoriam: Mansoor Ali”

In Memoriam: Abdul Motaleb

It is with great sadness that we have been informed that Mr Abdul Motaleb (61) passed away in the night of 30 April 2017.

Motaleb had over 36 years experience in the Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation Sector in Bangladesh and was widely liked and respected figure in the Bangladesh WASH sector.

photo: Abdul Motaleb and Sean Furey, in Dhaka, February 2017 (photo: Md. Nurul Osman – with thanks)

It is with great sadness that we have been informed that Mr Abdul Motaleb (61) passed away in the night of 30 April 2017.

Motaleb had over 36 years experience in the Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation Sector in Bangladesh and was widely liked and respected figure in the Bangladesh WASH sector.

He graduated from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). Dhaka in 1979 with a BSc in Water Resource Engineering and later in his career went on to gain a MSc in Sanitatary Engineering at the International Institute for Infrastructure, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE) Delft, the Netherlands.

During his long career he worked for M/S Associated Consulting Engineers, the Department for Public Health Engineering (DPHE), King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, World Bank/UNDP, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), and most recently the World Bank Group and as a freelance consultant.

Among his many works and achievements, it was on the topic of handpumps where he seemed to get most pleasure – from his involvement in the development of the Tara to his expertise with the Jibon Deepset and the No. 6 – handpumps on which tens of millions of people today in Bangladesh depend every day. He was a long standing member of HTN, later RWSN, and was an active contributor to the RWSN Groundwater group.

Abdul Motaleb inspecting a HYSAWA handpump installation near Khulna, SW Bangladesh, February 2017 (Photo: Sean Furey)

I had the pleasure of working with Motaleb from January onwards this year on an end-phase review assignment for SDC and we spent 10 intense days together in south-western coastal Bangladesh, with the staff of the HYSAWA Trust Fund.  He was utterly charming and humble, with a deep well of knowledge and experience. I could not have wished for a better colleague and in a very short space of time we became firm friends.

He will be greatly missed.

Sean Furey, RWSN Secretariat / Skat


Selected Publications

  • Technical Paper on Monitoring and Regeneration of Production Wells in Bangladesh. A paper presented by Abdul Motaleb (DPHE) and Drs. G.J.deWit (IWACO) at the seminar for Civil Engineering Division at the 34th Annual Convention of the Institute of Engineers, 1990 Dhaka Bangladesh.
  • Monitoring the Tara pump: An assessment of Functioning, Social Acceptability and O&M system. A report published by UNDP/World Bank Water and Sanitation Program RWSG-SA Dhaka
  • Quarterly Notes on Danida funded DPHE Handpump Training and Monitoring Program based on project implementation experiences published by UNDP/World Bank Water and Sanitation Program RWSG-SA Dhaka. Altogether 14 (Fourteen) HTMP Notes were prepared during 1993-1997.
  • Technology Development Never Stops-A story of Jibon Deepset Handpump Tubewell in Bangladesh. Paper presented in HTN Workshop on Civil Society and Government Partnership in Rural Water Supply, Hyderabad, India, 2000.
  • Village Organizations become Development Partners. Paper presented in 26th WEDC Conference, Dhaka 2000.
  • SODIS – An Arsenic Mitigation Option. Paper published in 26th WEDC Conference, Dhaka-2000.
  • SORAS –  A Simple Arsenic Removal Process. Paper published in 26th WEDC Conference, Dhaka-2000.
  • Total Sanitation Approach and Practice. A case study in Watsan Partnership Project (WPP). This paper presented in 19 AGUASAN WORKSHOP 2003 on This shit drama-Are there ways out? held in Switzerland organized by SKAT during June 23-27, 2003.
  • Arsenic Mitigation: Action Research Findings based on project implementation experiences in Watsan Partnership Project and published by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Bangladesh in June 2003.




In Memoriam: Piers Cross

We were saddened to learn that Piers Cross passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, on 29 March. Piers was a central figure in the WASH sector for many decades, in many roles at WSP and advising IRC, and was a driving force behind the Sanitation and Water for All partnership.Cross Piers 0708 Stockholm WWW PCross

He played a critical role in the development of RWSN, when he was Chair of the network between 2004 and 2008, by re-shaping the Handpump Technology Network (HTN) to the Rural Water Supply Network that we have today.

He leaves a great legacy and his words of wisdom and wit will be sorely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.

Nous sommes désolés d’apprendre que Piers Cross est décédé le 29 mars, entouré de sa famille. Piers était une personne clé du secteur de l’eau, de l’assainissement et de l’hygiène pendant plusieurs décennies, et a tenu de nombreux rôles à WSP et en tant que conseiller de IRC. Il était également une force motrice du partenariat Sanitation and Water for All.
Il a joué un rôle critique dans le développement de RWSN, lorsqu’il était à la tête du réseau entre 2004 et 2008, en assurant la transformation de ce qui était à l’époque le Réseau des technologies sur les pompes manuelles (Handpump Technology Network) au Rural Water Supply Network que nous avons aujourd’hui.
Son héritage perdure et ses mots de sagesse et d’esprit manqueront à tous ceux qui ont eu le plaisir de le connaitre et de travailler avec lui.

P.S. La famille Cross a accès à son compte email dans les mois qui viennent, donc vous pouvez envoyer vos condoléances si vous le désirez à cette adresse email: piers.cross {at}

Estamos anunciando la noticia triste de que el día 29 de Marzo Piers Cross falleció, en compañía de su familia. Piers era un personaje clave en el sector de Agua, Saneamiento e Higiene por muchas décadas y en muchos roles, como líder en WSP o como asesor de IRC, y era un motor detrás de la iniciativa Sanitation and Water For All.

El también desempeño un papel fundamental en el desarrollo del RWSN cuando era presidente de la red entre 2004 y 2008 y en el rediseño de lo que era el Handpump Technology Network de aquel entonces hacía el Rural Water Supply Network que somos hoy.

El deja un legado muy grande y su sabiduría y su humor serán extrañados por todos y todas que tenían el placer de conocerle y de trabajar con él.

Kelly Ann Naylor, RWSN Chair

P.S. The Cross family will continue to monitor his email account for a few months, so please feel free to send any well wishes to this email address: piers.cross {at}

Tributes to Piers from past and present members of the RWSN Executive Steering Committee – you can leave yours in the comments section below:

‘Piers Cross was at the helm when I first got involved with RWSN, as it transformed from HTN. His passion, commitment and humour were instrumental in inspiring me to became actively involved in the network and ignited my passion for rural water services. He will be sorely missed by the sector as a whole and by those of us who were honoured to call him a friend.’ – Dr Peter Harvey, UNICEF


‘The water community, and specifically many of us individually, are better thanks to his wisdom and passion. As a former employee under him in WSP, I will fondly miss him. We pray that his soul rests in eternal peace.’  – Maimuna Nalubega, African Development Bank