The idea to start with a Foundation to replace broken handpumps started already in 1997 in Mozambique when Paul van Beers was the Country representative of SaWa, a Dutch NGO that specialized in rehabilitation of small pipes water systems in countries that were in a post-war situation.
In a post-war situation, most water systems are broken down, so it makes sense to start with rehabilitation projects.
Already in the first week in Mozambique, he was invited for a workshop to discuss the problem of broken handpumps. It seems that 60% to 80% of the handpumps in Mozambique were broken down. Especially in the Gaza province with deep boreholes nearly all handpumps were out of order and nowbody had a solution. When he realized the magnitude and importance of that issue, he was directly challenged how to solve the Operation & Maintenance (O&M) problems of handpumps; what are the key success factors to look for and what to avoid. In other words, what happens in the post-donor phase, when the communities have to maintain the donor pump, all by themselves.
When looking into that problem, he soon found out that this was not a typical Mozambican post-war problem, but that in fact, all over Africa, most of the handpumps had severe maintenance problems.
Although still many thousands of handpumps are rusting away far in the bush, to his opinion, that is not the key problem. Controversially, the key problem today is that the issue of sustainability is still out of the focus of many NGOs. In other, more simple words, they seem not to really care about it. Many NGOs justify their existence by doing good but don't like to look back, too busy with their next "do-good" project. Understandable, everybody wants a job and do good, but it does not deliver what was promised, so it's not right in the end.
When you go deep into the subject of why handpumps are not sustainable, it's becomes clear also a fascinating and complex subject, due to all these stakeholders own interest, incompetence, corruption and hidden agenda's. He continued to study these issues, visited many handpump sites, evaluated NGO projects and handpump factories around the world and did studies amongst others for the World Bank. He reported about his findings in many conferences and reports, but amazingly enough, there was still very little interest from the donors and NGOs for this issue; often, they didn't really want to hear about this and preferred business as usual.
A crystal clear conclusion was that the standard handpumps commonly used were far too fragile to be used in community water supply. In fact, they were designed to be used for a few families only! When used in communities, they broke down often and needed too many spare parts. The devastating results are now clear:
40% of the pumps don't work, and the remaining 60% can only maintained at an unreasonable high cost for the communities. This is of course a drama with no bright future. Families that already have very little cash-flow, are now obliged to pay up for regular spares and repairs, otherwise their kids will die form unsafe water. Obviously, the money spent on repairs, often 200 to over 500 US$ per year, could be better spent on school fees, medicine, etc. and not on rusting pipes and rubbers and again and again on high transport cost for the many repair visits.
Obviously, in the first place, the communities needed a more solid and reliable handpump. However, there was no incentive at all within the sector to develop such a better handpump for several "business reasons". Quality and durability was therefore not an option, also because quality comes with a higher price and most NGOs were mainly interested in cheap pumps. Besides, many countries had already "decided" that a better handpump was not necessary and imposed to standardize on one or more types of pumps, although they knew very well that these types were too fragile and not sustainable. Hidden agenda's, commercial interest and in fact disrespect for the need of communities were clearly behind these decisions.
However, in the communities these fragile traditional pumps continue to break down and thousands families were desperate in need for a better and more durable handpump. But NGOs were still very happy with feeling good and did not feel an urge to change. In the "charity business" the focus is on fund raising and not on creating sustainable water points, unfortunately. Billions of US$ were raised for water projects each year, nobody was checking the results and so there was no need to change.
In the meantime, men were walking on the moon, planes became extremely reliable with jet engines, the fax was invented, computers did miracles, colour TV was in most households, mobile phones conquered the world, .... But in the poor communities, schools and health centers in Africa, people suffered more and more and many thousands of kids died in silence because of broken handpumps....
These numerous local drama and disasters were never on the news, nobody speaks about this; it could spoil the reputation of NGOs that were so proudly promoting their water projects to "help" the poor people with water aid. How come the world didn't know, whoi cares about this dark problem in the far away bush of Africa anyway?
In 2002 he became managing director of the Rural Water Development Project (RWD) in Kisii and had finally the possibility to put his ideas to develop a better handpump into action. The RWD project had a competent staff and together with them and the local private sector, the first model of the BluePump was developed. More field test with NGOs in the field (Oxfam, Samatarian Purse, ASAP, ADRA. Large and serious NGOs as Global Resources Alliances (GRA Tanzania), IRD in Swaziland followed and the rest is history. The BluePump is now here to stay. Already many hundreds of BluePumps are working every day in Africa, helping over 150.000 people with clean and safe water, day in and day out.
Many NGOs helped to develop and improve the design. Particularly Oxfam Kenya showed interest, , ADRA Niger, Samatharian Purse Mozambique, Christian Service Committee (CSC) Malawi, ASAP Burkina, etc. were also positive and courageous enough to try the BluePumps already in the early stages.
FairWater has an objective approach and is independent from Government subsidies and other policy makers. Instead, we prefer to work together with the green private sector and a small group of dedicated people all over the world, that are willing to go the extra mile and have a pure & genuine interest in making things better in a long lasting, sustainable way. No short term gains, no penny wise, pound foolish actions or flash campaigns just to raise money without an impact. We simply do what needs to be done for the people in Africa that need water every day; we rehabilitate the abandoned handpumps.
People need water, not more reports
We therefore absolutely do not agree with Governments or NGOs, that waste time with more and more studies without practical actions. This only shows that they do not really understand what goes on in the communities in Africa. People cannot drink reports. We can only hope that finally donors will start to fund practical projects and not only studies. The technology is now available, together with the right BlueZone management concept for scaling up, so no time to waste!
Our approach is simple and effective: we solve problems by creating local jobs, NOT with charity donations. Therefore we focus on involvement of the local private sector, cost recovery options through up scaling, and improvement of logistics, supply chains and integrated business. We do this in an evidence based manner: Everybody can see and follow what we do within our water projects. We have 2 major lines of intervention:
(1) The BlueZone Concept: This is a management model to create safe & sustainable rural water supply in a service region for a fair price. The success of the model is based on the combination of using a very reliable (but simple) handpump (the BluePump) in an area with regional support from the private sector for maintenance. At the same time, the service provider is also involved in other water related services in "his" BlueZone, like for instance installation of new BluePumps, solar systems, irrigation systems, water filters systems, etc. As long as he keeps his customers satisfied, also with maintenance support, all these activities will add up to a profitable sustainable business in water services that makes everybody happy.
(2) Water quality issues: When people have safe and reliable water from a handpump, there is still another major challenge to solve; How to secure that the water remains safe for households, schools and rural hospitals. FairWater promotes therefore simple & practical solutions such as the Kisii bucket filter for households and the improved BioSand filter, such as the Tiva filter. The introduction and after sale service of these filters is also part of the BlueZone Concept.
Süreyya Gök is the Co-Founder and Director of FairWater. Apart from her professional career as the senior Financial Specialist of the European Branch of an international company in Amsterdam, she has a passion for social work.
Since 2006 she was also active for many years as municipal councilor for the Social Democratic Party (PvdA), first in the city Almere and presently in Amsterdam in The Netherlands, with a special focus on how to contribute to better conditions for children and elderly people.
Sureyya has been also active in the Multi Ethnical Network for Women (MEV) to empower women with ethnical background.
Sureyya pairs a Turkish cultural background with an international orientation in a Dutch setting and she utilizes her keen observational skills and passion for people to write short stories in English, Dutch and Turkish about social issues and lifestyle experiences.
Paul van Beers, initiator of FairWater, is the program manager of the FairWater Trust Fund Projects, he holds a M.Sc. in Environmental Hydrology & Hydrogeology and has a vast international background and professional contacts based on 30 years of research and project management in Rural & Peri-Urban Water Supply, Hydrology and Environmental projects in Burkina Faso, Mauretania, Mozambique, Kenya, Angola, Benin, Chad, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania, Brazil and Oman.
After completing his studies in Geographical Hydrology, Remote Sensing and Geophysics, he started his professional career in Portugal (Hydro-geological studies in coastal aquifers 1980 - 1984). In 1985 he moved to Africa, Burkina Faso & Mauretania, mainly working in Rural Water Supply and part-time bush pilot and flying instructor.
To keep in touch with the new developments in The Netherlands, he returned in 1994 to work as project manager in environmental projects. In 1996 he signed up as Country Director Mozambique for the Dutch NGO SaWa, worked at the Mozambican Water Department and was involved in many studies, such as "Capacity & Willingness to pay" in rural and urban areas for the WorldBank.
From 1998 to 2001 he worked as consultant all over Africa for NGOs and the WorldBank and learned more about rural water projects in other African countries. Focus of most of these studies was how to deal with the maintenance problems of handpumps, involving all aspects (financial, technical, institutional, etc. ) and stakeholder's interests.
A new phase started when he was asked to lead the RWD program, one of the largest rural water projects in Kisii, western Kenya. The RWD program implemented over 1.000 water points and 15.000 latrines in that area and the staff had a lot of experience in how to deal with maintenance problems and how to improve sustainability. His last long term assignment was in South Angola, as WatSan Advisor to the local Government up to 2006. In fact in this area, the first prototype of what later would be called a BlueZone was already implemented by Mr. Abel Costa, the Director of the Provincial Water Department. Based on this experience, he introduced the "Handpump Lease Concept" in international siminars (e.g. WEDC) to contribute to the discussions to solve maintenance problems of handpumps.
However, he soon realized that water sector and most NGOs were not particularly interested in putting any new ideas into practice, but only prefered to play safe and say sorry. It became evident that most organizations prefer to focusing on more studies and more studies and visiting one seminar after the other to "talk" about the problems, rather than solving it with practical research.
As being a from a proud "Frysan" background (people from the north of Holland, know for being stubborn, "don't talk, but do" attitude, social committed and with a passion for water) he did not took "no" for an answer and picked up the challenge and started in 2007 the FairWater Foundation to further develop the BlueZone concept with the reliable BluePump in order to improve the sustainability of handpump water projects in Africa.
He is a member of the Dutch NEDWORC ''Consultants for Development Foundation'' and also a founding board member of Global Rainwater Harvesting Collective and has worked for Universities, Consultancy firms, The World Bank and National and International NGOs.
FairWater is a Dutch registered foundation (NL-34316771). Our visiting address is Keizersgracht 676, 1017 ET, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Phone: +31 20 260.1171