Handpump Operation & Maintenance (O&M)
A new handpump will not work for ever, with time some part may come loose or wear out and need to be replaced. Therefore, technical know-how need to be availble for regular maintenance and repairs when the pump breaks down.
To this aim, some 20 years ago, development organizations developed the VLOM approach. VLOM stands for: Village Level Operated & Maintained. The basic starting point of the VLOM approach is that the users should be responsible for the maintenance of the pump. This sounds logic, but in practise it became clear that this was easier said than done. Repairs usually become more complicated and expensive after some years and spare parts are often hard to find.
In the VLOM approach, it was also assumed that the key issue was to make the community feel that it was "their' own handpump. It was argued that as long as the community has a "sense of ownership", they will feel more responsible and therefore will automatically be more motivated to maintain "their" handpump. However, in practise also this assumption did not lead to sustainable handpump O&M practice.
Indeed, some "example" show-case communities could do this, especially in shallow boreholes, but the reality all over Africa is different. The result is that, today, on average 1 out of 3 handpumps, or about 40% to 50% of these VLOM handpumps are now abandoned. Especially handpumps in deep boreholes break down very often and are abandoned (70 to 90%). Statistics are hard to beat. It is expected that within 10 years most VLOM handpumps in Africa will be broken down.
Reliability is the key to sustainability
Studies show that the main problem of these VLOM handpumps (often mass produced in India) is due to the fact that they are not designed for heavy duty day-in day-out pumping in African rural communities. The advantage of these India pumps is that they are cheap, the disadvantage is that they break down all the time (sometimes already within a few weeks). They need many spares that are typically made for these pumps, so not available on the local market. No wonder that the initial spare parts are soon finished and that communties are irritated by the the never ending repairs. This is not what they expected and they cannot afford these frequent repairs as well. Result is that most VLOM pumps are abandoned within 3 to 5 years.
The FairWater BluePump alternative
Technology matters and indeed plays an important role. To avoid the irritations of the never ending breakdowns, the BluePump has been designed to be the most reliable handpump on the market. In fact, the BluePump therefore also need no spares all the time. Maintenance is limited to regular check on nuts and bolts. Besides, the maintenance of the FairWater BluePump is also organized in a different, more modern and private sector approach.
The BluePump A-B-C maintenance approach and the BlueZone concept
The recommended O&M concept for the BluePump is a simple A-B-C, and as simple as the BluePump technology itself. It comprised therefor only the following elements:
A. the "Agent", or distributor (supported by FairWater and the world-wide distributor BOODE B.V.
B. the "Back-Up" of a regional operating company or structure (supported by the Agent)
C. the "Caretaker" of the community (supported by the regional Back-up)
These 3 elements are in contact with each other and each plays a different role.
A. The Agent has pumps and parts in stock and all expertise is available;
B. The Back-Up has a repair capacity and assist the agent with installation and repairs;
C. The Caretaker supervises the use of the pump and is the eyes and ears for the Back-Up structure.
The regular small maintenance of the BluePump can still done by a local caretaker, he/she is appointed by the community and may recieve (yes or no, depending on the community) a small salary to supervise the water fetching and to collect the contribution of the users. Acceptable family contributions are about 0,5 to 1 US$ per family per month.
In case of a problem or check-up, the caretaker is the right person to contact the regional BluePump Back-Up support for assistance. Repairs will be done Fast, for a Fixed & Fair price, the "F + F + F approach". The price for the repair is mainly depending on the distance. Because the BluePump will not need a lot of spares, the community normally does not pay for the spares or other materials used, so they will not be surprised by a too large bill. In fact, in the A - B - C concept, the community will make an arrangement beforehand with the regional Back-Up support, for what price they will come to fix the pump when needed. The agent can give the regional Back-Up support assistance and pump & spares for installation or repairs.
No community bank-account needed
In the old VLOM approach, communities were encouraged to regular contribute to create a sum that could be used in case of repairs. However, this often created many problems in the community, because normally the money was gone when needed for a repair. With this new A-B-C approach this accountability problem is avoided. Communities only pay for repairs when there is an actual break down.
Sustainable water supply for the lowest price
Because of the simplicity and reliability of the BluePump, breakdowns are rare and can easily be resolved without many expensive spares. Therefore the BluePump repairs should in practice normally be done for a low and fixed price. The BluePump A-B-C concept therefore makes the BluePump the cheapest to operate & maintain handpump for community water supply.
A check-up of a BluePump in Mozambique by the local company "BlueZone", the country dealer for the BluePump.
(this is an UNICEF sponsored BluePump, at a depth of 67m. deep, providing water for about 2.000 people on a daily basis)