Global Resources Alliances is an USA based NGO that implements integrated Rural Development projects in Western Tanzania. We have installed over 40 BluePumps in Tanzania the past 3 years and are very impressed with the top quality materials and that go into their construction and the simple elegance of their design.
Maintenance is generally limited to the periodic tightening of a few easily accessible bolts, so training someone from the local village where our pumps are installed is easy.
Although the initial cost of the BluePump may be more than other imported models, the reliability, durability and ease of maintenance make them much less expensive in the long run, and keep our clients happy – which is priceless.
President, Global Resource Alliance
Go to almost any rural area in Kenya and chances are you won't have to drive around for long to find a broken handpump. Whatever the make there's always a reason why it wasn't possible to fix - lack of funds, no spares, spares but no tools, technician was trained but left village, "We're waiting for the agency that installed it to come and fix it," etc, etc.
Pumps break, it's normal - isn't it? So doesn't it seem strange that it has not been possible to produce a reliable handpump that doesn't break down in the first place?
In 2006 when a developer from the Netherlands claimed to have produced just that - "a maintenance-free handpump, that could operate for 20+ years" - it was too significant a claim for Oxfam to ignore.
The developer was Paul van Beers, founder of the Fairwater Foundation, and what has followed is a three-year pilot study to trial the "BluePump" in the Turkana District of Northern Kenya.
On inspection the first four pumps procured for the initial pilot looked technically sound - rods, handle, pipes, bearings and headworks were of high precision and good quality. It was therefore a surprise when the first pump broke down within 24 hours of installation.
The first problem related to a leaking foot valve which meant the pump needed to be primed every day. In practice, for an 80 metre deep borehole this meant the first person to reach the pump in the morning had to pump the handle for 10-15 minutes before water discharged from the spout. After a few minutes of no water coming from the pump, the natural reaction for the user was to assume the pump was not working and to give up.
In the three year pilot problems have been experienced with the cylinder, rods, centralisers and handle. Expressed this way it would not appear to be a success but this is actually far from the reality. The underlying success of the project has been the mutually beneficial partnership that has developed between Oxfam and the pump producer through regular e-mail or telephone correspondence on the performance of the pump. This has resulted in a pump that is now probably better than anything else on the market - and communities who are a lot more water secure than they were three years ago.
For the developer he has access to the perfect field environment. Turkana is probably one of the harshest environments on the planet to test a handpump - water is scarce, water points are overcrowded and at times people literally fight over water. Handpumps tend to be isolated with no caretaker so are exposed to rough handling, general abuse and risk of vandalism.
The mechanics of a handpump undergo near continuous heavy use and abuse from the average village. The continuous movement and vibration of handle, rods and piston to lift the water puts enormous stresses on all components of the unit so it is no surprise that pumps break.
If there is something that can go wrong it will, so to have a team of field staff able to report performance issues back to the designers in Europe has been hugely beneficial. Equally having a pump designer with the technical expertise and willingness to invest time and money to resolve the problems has been a big help for Oxfam.
The BluePump is not the perfect handpump and may not be the most appropriate solution everywhere but it is arguably better than anything else currently available on the market. For Oxfam's programme in Turkana it is particularly satisfying to be able to say that in 2011 because of our programme the BluePump is a significantly more reliable, robust pump than it was when it was first launched. Also as part of this process national suppliers have been encouraged to source and supply these pumps and spare parts are now readily available in Kenya.
More importantly, as a direct result of this work communities in Turkana now have improved access to water, are less vulnerable to water shortages during drought and have a greater level of self reliance when it comes to management of their water supplies than they did before.
This was really put to the test last year when Kenya experienced its worst drought in 60 years. Despite very heavy usage the pumps have performed well and have experienced minimal problems. This work is still not complete and regular discussions continue with the developer to explore what additional improvements can be made to strengthen the pump further.
Comments form FairWater, Paul van Beers
Thanks Brian for you good work with the BluePump. Without you and your team, this wouldn't be possible. You are right, the Turkana region is devastating & non forgiving and they say "what doesn't kills you, makes you better" and that sure counts for the BluePump as well. It performed fine up to 40 - 50m. but now we are also more confident up to 100m. It's definitly so much better now!
Thanks to this dreadfull experience, we could improve the design even more and improvements are still going on. Recent improvements will include special centralizers that can be re-used several times again and again, and also allow easier fishing of rods in the unlikely case of rods breaking (but Turkana seems to be Murphy's Kingdom... especially in deep and non vertical, bended boreholes).
Having said this, we all know that technology alone is not enough for sustainability. In the end, everything will fail, even a BluePump. Therefore we have to add that we promote with the durable BluePump the BlueZone Business Approach (BBA). This is based on the assumption that for many years to come, there will be a local demand for better quality handpumps like the BluePump, especially for rehabilitation of broken handpumps.
Many communities would love to have their old handpump replaced by a solid BluePump now. We see that hapening now in all countries (based on a total of about 500 BluePumps in 10 African countries) that have BluePumps. Therefore BluePump dealers will have a steady extra income from a contineous market in rehabilitation of broken down handpumps At the same time, they will have pumps and spares in stock just in case Murphy comes along. We also encourage dealers to assist communities and repair for a small fixed price.
We feel that this BlueZone Business Approach with rehabilitated handpumps is more sustainable, because of the simple fact that all BluePumps will be installed by the dealer or his local representative. It became clear, that communities really appreciate the local entrepreneurs that help them and are there to stay. NGOs in the past, they come and go, which demotivated many communities. BluePump dealers are larger companies that are there to stay and to serve the communities in a professional way. That is why FairWater is supporting these dealers with advice and often as well with pre-financing sponsored handpumps from our FairWater TrustFund.
Paul van Beers
A study by UNICEF in 2007 indicated that about 40% (about 150.000 of the 350.000 installed) of the handpumps in Africa is not working anymore. It also became clear that most handpump have a limited functional life of 3 to 5 years.
Therefore is is estimated that by the end of this year over 50% is broken down and that within 10 years most handpumps in Africa will be abandoned.
In areas with deep groundwater handpump failure rates are often over 80%. This is especially problematic because alternative water points are far away and often polluted. Most handpumps are VLOM pumps from India, rather cheap, but not reliable enough for Africa and last only a few years.
The situation in Africa becomes more critical every day; the water pumps still working are those recently installed. If water projects do not change for the better, Africa will turn into a handpump graveyard while people are again without water.
What went wrong?
Basically, it's very simple: In the first place it is important to define the key problem. Rural communities in Africa are often very poor and have little or no financial and technical means for maintenance. This is very obvious, but amazingly enough after 20 years, still not well understood by many policy makers. They assume that rural people will maintain handpumps all by themselves, which is called the VLOM approach, using VLOM type handpumps. However, these VLOM handpumps are fragile and break down all the time. Repairs are in the beginning relatively easy, but become more and more complicated after a few years and also need more and more expensive spare parts. Obviously, this was not what the communities expected and can maintain for many years, so these VLOM handpump are abandoned within 3 to 5 years.
How long can this go on?
Good question. The answer to this is surprisingly: "very long!" The reason for this is rather simple. NGOs and water projects are not accountable for what they do with the funding. In fact, they can do whatever as long as they show in the end some nice pictures with kids pumping from the VLOM pump. But they do not show you the results some 3 to 5 years later. Of course not. In the rare cases that VLOM pumps still work after some years, this is mainly due to the fact that the NGOs are still working in these areas and continue to repair these pumps for free. Of course, that is not sustainable.
A clear example of this is an Oxfam water project in Angola some years ago. They maintained over 500 handpumps in central Angola, but when the USAID funding suddenly stopped (because USAID funding was diverted to Iraq), all these water points were left alone and broke down, one after the other. Africa is full with stories like these.
Environmental aspects and CO2 compensation
Non-sustainable handpumps also represent a large environmental problem. The never ending project activities, cars & lorries going up and down, wasted energy, wasted materials, endless meetings, travels, piles of useless reports, etc. etc. .... it all adds up to the huge CO2 footprint of abandoned handpump and pressure on the environment. To compensate one abandoned handpump in terms of CO2 emisions, we have to plant at least 1 football field with trees in Africa. That equals about 6.000 football fields in each African country.
In fact, if you sponsor to rehab an abandoned handpump with a durable BluePump, not only you give water to a community for at least 10 years, but you also re-compensate the equivalent of 1 football field in CO2 as well.
It's time for a transparent & environmental friendly approach with durable results: the FairWater BluePump.
Lubango in south Angola today: Happy families due to rehabilitation with the durable FairWater BluePump, easy to use!
BlueZones in Africa, is a project of FairWater to promote reliable and sustainable community handpumps that can be maintained at low cost and that can be used for a long time before needing a simple check-up.
The durable concept of the BlueZones was originally developed in the Rural Development Project in Kenya in 2003 and was further tested in Africa and improved by the co-founder of FairWater, Paul van Beers, in cooperation with several international NGOs, such as Oxfam Kenya and UNICEF Mozambique. The concept is based on the combination of using a very strong & reliable, simple handpump (The BluePump) with a straight foreward regional support structure for technical back-up in case of a major problem.
FairWater assist NGOs in the set-up of the BlueZone maintenance structure. The BluePump itself can be obtained with BOODE B.V. in the Netherlands and through local BluePump distributors in Africa, for a "fair" price, with a reliable after sale service for installation and technical backup.
Why use the BluePump?
The BluePump is more expensive compared to the cheaper VLOM handpumps! But all studies and statistics show that these cheap India VLOM pumps do not last, they break down too often, are complicated and expensive to repair and need many spare parts. In the end these VLOM pumps are very expensive to maintain for the users, besides, spare parts are often not available.
BluePumps on the contrary, are very reliable, don't need regular spare parts and can therefore be maintained at a very low cost with the help of a regional support sructure. By 2011 there are already 8 BlueZones starting to operate in Africa with over 300 BluePumps. The concept has become rapidly popular with the users and serious NGOs.
The BluePump has many qualities:
- Amazingly simple to install and maintain without special tools
- High water output: >1 m3 / hour at 60m.
- Light pumping, also at greater depth
- Long life pump BPS system, maintenance free
- strong 2m. rods, fully threaded, so incase of problems, the rod can still be used
- simple & resistant rubber centralizers, that can also be made locally
- Regular maintenance is only tightening of nuts & bolts
- Simple check-up every 5 to 10 years
- The cap can be used for advertisement, which creates income
Contact BOODE B.V. in the Netherlands for more info.
Deep water levels are accessible with the BluePump
Before the introduction of the BluePump design, it was very difficult to operate handpumps in boreholes with deep groundwater. Pumping becomes heavy and breakdowns are more frequent with increasing depth, resulting in a very high percentage (> 80%) of abandoned handpumps.
What can be considered deep groundwater?
In general, handpumps cannot be used below 40m. Below that depth, the weight of the pipes become to much and the pipes can break. To avoid such regular breakdowns, the pipes must be supported. However, the pump cylinder is not installed at the static water level, but at the dynamic water level. The dynamnic water level during pumping is normally 5 to 10m. below the static water level.
Water levels change with time
During pumping the waterlevel in the borehole goes down and can be 5 to 10m below the static waterlevel. In addition to this lower level, in the dry season the regional groundwater level may also go down. In brief, the depth of the cylinder should have a 'safe margine', which is basically the sum of pumping drawdown and other groundwater fluctuations, so in general at least 10 to 15m. below the static water.
Therefore in areas with a static groundwater levels between 25 and 30m. deep, the safe installation depth of the cylinder is about 40m. Water levels deeper as 25m. should therefore be considered as 'deep groundwater zones' as far as it concerns to handpumps.
BluePump Bottom Support solution
When handpumps cylinders are installed below 40m. the main technical problem is caused by the weight of the pipes filled with water. With the India VLOM pumps, these pipes eventually break and leak. However, the BluePump comes with a a "Bottom Support" system, in which the rising main pipes are not hanging on the top, but continue until the bottom of the borehole. This avoids stress on the pipes and contributes to the life span of the PVC pipes.
The BluePump Bottom Support (BS) system enables pumping from 100m deep. With the installation rope, the installation up is also easy and can be done by 2 persones only without the need of a tripod or additional installation tools.
The BlueZone Concept is a modern (business) management model for sustainable water supply for communities in Africa. It has been introduced by FairWater as a response to the disasterous failing NGO/VLOM (Village Level Operated & Maintained) management model that has been heavily promoted in the past by NGOs since 1980.
The first BlueZone experience in Africa started in Gambia with Swe-Gam as the country Water Serive Provider (WSP). The concept is now being implemeted in other countries (Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania and Burkina).
The BlueZone concept is new in rural water suply, but the concept itself is already proven in other sectors. It starts with the understanding that rural water supply is just the end of a long supply chain of stakeholders. This means that the sustainability or the strenght of the chain, is determinded by the quality of the weakest link.
It also means, that the energy that keeps the chain active, should come from the end of the chain, which are the users of the handpump. In other words, in one way or another, people have to pay a bit for the water. Only when money flows up, service and hardware moves down. It should not be the other way round.
When we see rural water supply as a long supply chain, it also becomes clear that anything that makes the links more efficient, will make the chain stronger and thus the handpumps more sustainable. In the same way, we should avoid that one link in the chain becomes weak. These are the simple basics of the BlueZone Concept; just imagine an interdepence chain of many happy stakeholders. Everybody in the chain should realize and respect, that others are equally important for them. In practise this means that rural people will only be happy with a handpump, if all stakeholders above them in the chain are also happy.
Because people in rural areas are generally considered as "poor", or better, "have a limited cash flow", they can only pay a little to maintain the supply chain. But they have to pay at least a little bit. Therefore the only way that this chain can work, is to have as many people and pumps connected to the same chain. In other words, we need many pumps and scaling up and preferably only one type of pump in the chain.
The BlueZone is therefore set up as a professional dealer ship and can be compared with for instance the dealer ship of Toyota cars. It is in the interest of the dealer that Toyota's cars are driving around and have a good reputation, otherwise he will soon be out of business. Similar, for the BluePump, there is also only only one offical Dealer that is responsible for the installation and maintenance of BluePumps.
If the country is large, there are local agents or local companies to assist and closer to the communities this can be a regional careteker. Due to economics of scale and other commercial activities of the WSP in the BlueZone, all BluePumps are operational and maintained at 50 to 100 US$ per year, which is about 5 to 10 US$ per family per year. That means sustainable and affordable water supply.
The ABC Maintenance Contract
The BlueZone approach is based on using a very reliable FairWater BluePump. The BluePump is installed with one year garantee. After that year, the communties have the choice to be connected to the BlueZone with an "ABC" maintenance contract. This is an Annual BluePump Check-up serves to avoid repairs and should be done for a fixed price, depending on the number of BluePumps in he Zone and the distance to service all pumps. The more BluePumps, the cheaper the ABC. We aim at a price for the ABC between 50 and 100 US$ per year, which is possible with about 50 BluePumps in a Zone.
If the communities decide not to want the ABC, they can call the regional support for assistance in case of problems with the pump, but will pay more for the trip.
How to start a BlueZone?
This is relatively easy. First, you need to appoint a reliable WSP. In doing so, it is important to consider that it is always better to improve upon what is already there, and not to create a new company just to make a BlueZone. The WSP should also not be too small. Best is therefore to find out who is already involved in other technical commercial activities in that area. This can be for instance; Installation & maintenance of solar systems, diesel pumps, irrigation systems, agricultural equipment, repairing cars and trucks, etc. Such a company has access to transport and is able and willing to give a good service at a fair price.
The additional sustainability aspects of the BlueZone is, that every BluePump also creates goodwill for that company and so his other business will also profit from the fact that he sells, installs and maintains BluePumps.
The next step is to provide the first container with a container of 40 BluePumps. Half of that, 20 pumps, can be installed as demo pumps to replace broken down handpumps in the direct area of the WSP. This will show how the BluePumps perform and create trust and demand. Governments and NGOs will see the good results, and in the end decide to also start to using BluePumps to have sustainable results. The WSP will supply pumps and his business model starts. When the first container is sold out, a new one will be send and sold. Within a few years, there will be a steady flow of containers to the WSP. More and more communities are connected to the BlueZone. After a few years, the selling of pumps and the income of the ABC (Annual BluePump Check) will creat enough cashflow to cover the costs of the WSP activities to maintain the service.
The start-up cost involved is a € 100.000,- loan to start-up. Not that much after all, especially not when compared this with the annual budgets and overhead costs of many Charity NGOs. Also, it is a loan, not even a donation. After the first year, it will be a self-propelling activity that starts to generate enough local business for the WSP to be maintained without external funding. In the end, that is all what it is about; people become self reliant and have sustainable water for life.
The business model of the BlueZone is further supported by a steady demand for rehabilitation of old broken down VLOM pumps. It is estimated that in each African country, the yearly demand for new and better handpumps is about 200 to 500 handpumps. The income from the rehabilitation of broken pumps will create already enough revenues for the WSP to have a sustainable business and to maintain the already installed BluePumps in the BlueZone for a very low price.
BluePumps at schools and health centres
Water pumps at schools and health centers were always a special concern. It is estimated that in each African country 10 to 20% of the broken handpumps are with schools and health centers. In most countries over 1.000 handpumps at schools and health centres are broken down.
In the BlueZone, these pumps are linked with the WSP. The WSP will install and maintain BluePumps at schools and health centres at a reduced rate, due to a small cross-subsidy of his other business in the BlueZone. This creates additional goodwill and therefore additional business.
A local caretaker from the community is assigned to each BluePump to supervise daily operation and simple maintenance, like tightening nuts and bolts, cleaning of the platform, opening & closing of the pump, etc. The caretaker is appointed by the community and is registrated with the local government as the official contact person for that water point.
In most cases, the caretaker is paid by the community a small compensation for this, per week, per month or in whatever way that is best suited in the community. In case of a major problem, the caretaker should take action and is responsible to inform the WSP or regional caretaker who will repair the pump for a fixed price between 25 and 50 US$, only depending on the distance. The fixed repair price is important for the community and the caretaker, because they will know how much to collect for the repair. In this case, the O&M is very transparent and sustainable.
The community has no more worries for repairs or to get spare parts. The BluePump basically does not need any spare parts in the first place, and in the rare case some parts are needed, they will be supplied and installed for free by the regional BluePump support.
The BlueZone concept is sustainable by itself, because all stakeholders have an interest in keeping the pump operational. The regional BluePump support or WSP also has a strong interest to keep all BluePumps in a good working order. When all BluePumps are working, it's good reputation will buzz around and the BluePump dealer will sell more BluePumps, expanding the BlueZone even further.
FairWater assists in setting up the Operation & Maintenance (O&M) in these BlueZones and is monitoring from time to time the performance in the field. If needed, FairWater will do follow-up missions for further training and assistance. In case the BlueZone needs specific materials or new parts (updates of older type of BluePumps) FairWater will provide these parts for free, in collaboration with the local FairWater partners.
In the Gambia a good and active example can be seen already of the BlueZone Concept. The country dealer Swe-Gam has BluePumps in stock and installs BluePumps with a year warrantee. Already over 50 BluePumps are operational in this BlueZone. Swe-Gam has already a good reputation all over Gambia as the BluePump supplier and support. As a result, the communities and others also start to know of the other products that Swe-Gam has to offer in the rural areas, such as agricultural equipment. Therefore their activities in installing and maintaining BluePumps have a positive spin-of for the company Swe-Gam as a whole.
The advantages of the BlueZone concept are:
- Operational costs for a BluePumps is very low (generally less than 50 US$ per pump per year);
- Breakdowns are very unlikely, people have water for a life-time;
- In case of unlikely breakdown, repairs with an ABC contract are done with triple F: Fast, Fixed & Fair price;
- Users will always know exactly what they will have to pay for a repair;
- No need of building up a "repair fund" (this created too many stories and problems in the past);
- The caretaker ican have a salary because users like reliability; he is motivated to keep "his" pump in condition;
- Governements have free monitoring through the data of the WSP
BlueZones cannot be introduced in all African countries
We also noticed that it is not possible to start with a BlueZone in all African counries. Sometimes water NGOs still have to go on with outdated VLOM approach for the moment. They have to do so, because they must follow the guidelines of some Governments in Africa. It is said in Africa, that the main reason these Governments prefer the VLOM approach, is because they protect the business of some handpump sellers that do not welcome a free competition of better quality products.
Examples are for instance Ghana, Uganda, Mali and Nigeria.... We regret that, and we hope that the NGOs and major donors will convince these governments that this is not the way foreward. The water problems of communities in these VLOM countries should not be used anymore to justify handpump business deals, they also deserve access to better quality handpumps.
For more information: contact FairWater