My name is Paul van Beers, initiator of FairWater, I have a passion for Africa, geology, water, (bush)flying and motorbikes.
My professional background is a MSc. in Hydrogeology with specialization on groundwater exploration, geo-physics, remote sensing and rural water supply.
Let me explain why I decided to develop the BluePump and start with the FairWater Foundation. My story may also be a “wake-up” call for those who have an open mind and do not take the promotional “success stories” of the many water NGOs for granted.
In 1985, at the age of 35, I started working as a hydrogeologist in Burkina Faso, making hundreds of boreholes with handpumps for communities. In the beginning I thought that I was doing a great job, helping people with water. But little in knew what would happen after we handed over the pump to the community.
I was shocked when I found out many years later that most of the water pumps we installed were not in use anymore and that the people had to go back to the river … Even worse, I found out that this disaster was happening all over Africa!
When I discussed this with the NGOs, the overall reaction was: “these people are to blame; they don’t take care of the pumps“, and that they should have more “ownership” over the pump.
But the communities told me a complete different story. They said that “The Government and NGOs imposed these fragile pumps upon us, these pumps are impossible to maintain, we can’t afford many repairs, we urgently need better pumps“.
At the end of the day, I found that the communities had to choose between:
1. Suffer & Pay: When they can raise cash for repairs, they manage to keep the pump working, but every year this puts them back some 250 to up to 500 US$ per year; money they rather spend on other things.
2. Give up & Suffer: When they cannot raise enough cash for repairs, the pump is abandoned.
However, in either situation people are not happy with their handpump. Detailed studies all over Africa revealed that on average, over 40% of the rural communities (especially the poor communities!) fall into the second “Give-Up” category. It is estimated that in Africa today over 200.000 handpumps are not working. I was Shocked!
Will this be the future of Africa? Women running for the last working handpump… ??
Conclusion: All these “nice” donor water projects are not helping Africa at all. In many cases the donors keep paying for the repairs, just to avoid that whole regions were without water. To me this is an un-healthy, non-sustainable situation.
“Scrap-Pumps“… is what these rusting pumps are called in Africa. The people in Africa hate them.
So I asked myself, “do I want to be part of this drama, is this work to be proud of?
For me the solution was clear: Africa needed urgently a more reliable pump with a back-up service system and I decided that if nobody else would take up that challenge, one day, I would do it myself.
Some years later, in 2001, I was the manager of one of the largest Rural Water Projects in Kenya, the RWD project in Kisii. To no suprise, I found that in our project area the standard handpumps in use (Afridev and India MK2) were also breaking down at an alarming rate. With our technical staff we discussed these issues and we came up with a first ideas of what later would be the BluePump. We called it at that time the “AfriPump”. See the WEDC report 2004 on handpumps in Africa. (click here)
After Kenya, I worked several years in South Angola as advisor to the Water Department. The Director was a bright man and well aware of the broken pump problem and was very much interested in the idea to help to develop a more durable pump.
We installed together the first models in Lubango. The local people were very much exited about the pump and because we choose the color blue, they called it “Bomba Azul” or “BluePump”.
One of the first models of the BluePump in Lubango, South Angola, 2006
Note that the initial position of the spout was on the side of the pump. However, because most pumps in Africa have the spout on the front, we re-designed this to make it more easy to fit on an old India MK2 or Afridev drainage platform.
When I finished my assignment in Angola in 2007, I decided to stay in the Netherlands to fully focus on the further development and testing of the new pump in other parts in Africa, with the help of several NGOs.
At the same time, I started with my partner Sureyya Gök the FairWater Foundation. Our idea was to start with FairWater a “Social Enterprise”, though at that time this concept was not yet known, and promote this new durable waterpump as a social product; the BluePump .
Because of my extensive field experience all over Africa with most of the handpumps in use, and my contacts all over Africa, I was in an unique position to finally bring all accumulated experience and other persons to the drawing board to work on that mission.
However, I also soon found out that it is not easy to introduce a better technology. Many people are against innovation and afraid to change the status quo, because they fear that they will loose something. Due to vested financial interests (including corruption issues) they prefer to continue business as usual.
Fortunately, there were also more open minded people and serious organisations that shared my worries about the many broken down pumps. To name a few, Oxfam in Kenya, GRA in Tanzania and ASAP in Burkina also strongly believed in the necessity of this humanitarian project and supported our mission for a more reliable handpump.
I am therefore most grateful to those who were prepared to buy and test the first BluePumps in most difficult field conditions. These tests revealed indeed some flaws in the design, especially when the pump was used in very deep boreholes, but we could solve all these issues and update the older designs with these new items.
The result is that today, we have an active dealer network in many countries in Africa with over 1.000 BluePumps working every day, providing clean water to over 500.000 people at a very low price.
The BluePump is now recognised by Oxfam and other leading NGOs as the most reliable handpump for Africa (click here). Users of the BluePump know where to go in case of a problem, due to our “BlueZone” approach, where BluePumps are installed and maintained by the local private sector.
To make BluePumps available for all water projects, we delegated the manufacturing and distribution of the BluePump to BOODE BV (Click here) in The Netherlands.
The net revenues from selling the BluePump is supporting our ongoing BluePump evaluation and R&D and the limited overhead of our own FairWater Projects. Therefore when people donate to FairWater, 100% of the donations can be used to send more BluePumps to Africa; we do NOT take a part of your donations to cover our overhead like most NGOs do.
But there is more; introducing water bottles for kids.
Already a few years ago, I noticed that African kids were inventing all kind of solutions to make a water bottle for themselve to have water always at hand, see the picture below.
When I started to think about this, it all came together and made perfectly sense. Of course “only” a handpump is not enough to solve the water problems, they need more! Imagine, if you have only one handpump for a school with 500 kids, and they have to go one by one to the pump to drink? Besides, using your hands for drinking is also not very hygienic and a lot of water is wasted.
So we developed with our partner Join-the-Pipe.org the ambitious “Bottles & Pumps Project”; to give all kids in Africa their own, private water bottle. The bottles come free of charge, they are payed for by our sponsors. To transport the bottles to the communities for free, we simply put them into the pipes of the BluePump!
The Pump Crisis is not yet solved... The next important step is to create more awareness at Governments and NGOs to stop with poor quality rusting pumps and change to durable BluePumps to make BlueZones with durable Bottles & Pumps.
Let’s hope that all NGOs and donors will understand one day that it’s wiser to invest in a solution that is sustainable and makes people happy for a life-time, even when this cost a bit more in the beginning.
Paul van Beers: My role in the FairWater Foundation is to further elaborate on Research & Development of the BluePump and to co-ordinate the projects of FairWater sponsors. Some more about my working experience. I worked for Universities, Consultancies, World Bank, Governments and international NGOs in Rural & Peri-Urban Water Supply projects in Africa and lived for many years in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mozambique, Kenya and Angola. I did many studies to rural water supply in Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania and in Zambia.
Sureyya Gök, is the Co-founder and director of the FairWater Foundation. Apart from her professional career as Director of Finance of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Branch of an international company in Amsterdam, Sureyya has also a passion for social work. From 2006 to 2013 she was also a municipal councilor in The Netherlands, with a special focus on how to contribute to better conditions for children and elderly people and active in the Multi Ethnical Network for Women (MEV) to empower women with ethnical background.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, or if you would like to be a sponsor of a BluePump in Africa, or would like to become a FairWater partner and start with your own BlueZone in Africa.
Our visiting address is:
Keizersgracht 676, 1017 ET
Phone: +31 20 260.1171