The BlueZone Solution: ABC instead of VLOM
The BlueZone ABC approach is a modern (business) management model for sustainable water supply for communities in Africa. It has been developed and 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 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 conencted to the BlueZone with "ABC" maintenance contract for 3 years. This is an Annual BluePump Check-up by the SWP and unforeseen repairs in between for a fixed price. If the communities decide not to have an ABC, they have to call in the WSP for assistance in case of problems with the pump. The price of the ABC contract will be between 50 and 100 US$ per year, depending on the distance to the WSP.
What is the BlueZone Concept?
The BlueZone concept is set up as a dealer ship, like 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, therere are local agents or local WSP as well that has the function of 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.
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 working principle 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.
Warning: The biggest mistake is to create a new company or organization that should do only Installation & Maintenance (I&M) of handpumps in an area. This has been tried before and has always failed soon after the donor funding was finished.
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 total cost involved is only € 100.000,- to start-up, and another € 50.000,- to continue the second year. Not that much after all.
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 demand for rehabilitation will be at a constant rate of at least 200 BluePumps a year. 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. It all creates local jobs and is therefore sustainable. Another major headache solved by the BlueZone approach in a simple way. We all benefit.
How are BluePumps maintained; O&M
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 are very low (generally less than 50 US$ 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 for a 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 problems in the past);
- The caretaker is motivated because he also makes some money to keep "his" pump in good condition;
- The BluePump lifetime can be easily extended with a simple overhaul by the dealer.
- Monitoring of the functionality becomes easy through 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.
What is so special about the BluePump?
The FairWater BluePump is an innovative and new handpump design, using field data why other pumps fail, combined with innovative solutions and modern technologies. After a very severe testing program with the help of Oxfam Kenya and Unicef Mozambique, the final model was released by FairWater in 2011. The BluePumps is now considered by international experts and NGOs as the most effective and reliable handpump on the market. It main advantage is a maintenance free below-ground pump unit without rubber seals, combined with rock-solid box and heavy duty maintenance free bearings. But is will take some time before also decision makers and policy makers will accept that, due to a natural resistance that large organizations have by nature.
Examples of the BluePump design simplicity
- No rubber seals on the piston, means no problems, no maintenance;
- Triple security foot valve system, with a stainless steel ball to deal with the pressure of 100m water in rising main:
- Strong 12mm stainless steel rods, fully threaded: in unlikely case of breaking, rest of rod can still be used;
- Simple, strong & cheap, rod centralizers with secure fit;
- No special tools needed for installation of maintenance;
The BluePump design is owned and hosted by the FairWater Foundation who supervises the production and monitoring the performance of all BluePumps in the field. FairWater has an active R&D program to update and improve the design whenever needed. In case of the unlikely event of malfunctions or technical problems, parts are replaced at no cost by FairWater Trustfund through the BluePump central distributor BOODE B.V. in the Netherlands.
For more information and how to start making BlueZones with the FairWater BluePump contact FairWater