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