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 WSP supports the Area Mechanics (AM) in the BlueZone, for installations and repairs, with a tool box and a set of spares. This concept is now being implemented by Fairwater in other countries (Mozambique, Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania and Burkina).
The BlueZone is based on the understanding that rural water supply is just the end of a supply chain of stakeholders. To make it simple and sustainable, the chain in the BlueZone is short and effective. There is no extra step with spare part supply in local shops, but the WSP supports and maintains direct acontact with the Local Service Provider (LSP) which is often an Area Mechanic (AM) in the region of the BlueZone.
The BlueZone is therefore an area in which the whole project cycle of installation, maintenance and repairs has only one local contact point for the communities that can be called for any issue with the BluePump. This gives the people confidence and trust and increases therefore the sustainability and willingness to pay for assistance. At the same time, it also creates a business opportunity for the Area Mechanic; if he has a fixed number of pumps to take care of, it is also his own interest to keep the BlueZone working.
It also means, that the sustainability comes from the end of the chain, which are the users of the handpump. In other words, in one way or another, families have to pay a bit for the maintenance of the pump. Only when money flows up, the chain is sustainable and service and hardware moves down. It should not be the other way round.
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 to secure that sufficient money flows up in the chain, it is important to have as many people and pumps to contribute. In other words, we need many pumps and scaling up.
Due to economics of scale all BluePumps are operational and maintained at 50 to 100 US$ per year, which is about 2 to 5 US$ per family per year. This is affordable and in rural areas people are willing to pay this amount for a good service.
The ABC Maintenance Contract
The BlueZone approach works better with a reliable handpump. The communties with a reliable BluePump have the choice to be connected to the BlueZone with an "ABC" maintenance contract. This is an Annual BluePump Check-up by a trained BluePump Area Mechanic and 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 Area Mechanic 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 and preferably a region with Area Mechanics that are already active maintaining other pumps. 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 thw WSP and AMs and so their other business will also profit from the fact that they sell, install 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