My name is Paul van Beers, initiator of FairWater, I have a passion for Africa, geology, water, (bush)flying, motorbikes and last but not least, the people that live (and trying to survive) in rural Africa with limited resources.
My professional background is an MSc. in Hydrogeology with specialization in groundwater exploration, geophysics, remote sensing and rural water supply. Indeed, I was fortunate to be able to study these subjects that interested me not only for it’s beauty, but also to see how I could contribute to a better world with this knowledge.
Let me explain why I started the FairWater Foundation and the BluePump Project. My story may also be a “wake-up” call for those who have an open mind and do not take the promotional “success stories” and #FakeNews of the many water NGOs for granted.
In 1985, at the age of 35, after working for the GroundWater Department of the University in Amsterdam, I moved with my family to Burkina Faso in Africa to work in Rural Water Supply en was involved in creating over 500 water points. I thought that I was doing a great job, helping poor people with clean water. However, at that time, I did not realize what would happen after we handed over the waterpoint to the community.
To cut a long story short, I was shocked when I found out later that most of the water pumps were not in use anymore and that most of these people had to go back to the river again if another NGO project did not provide a new handpump… And even worse, I found out that this disaster was happening all over Africa!
When I discussed this with the NGOs, their overall reaction was: “We know this, but the local people are to blame; they don’t take care of the pumps“, and their solution was that the locals should have more “ownership” over the pump.
But the communities told me a completely different story. They said that “The Government and NGOs imposed these pumps upon us, but they break down all the time and are impossible to maintain, we can’t afford the many repairs. And we do NOT want the same ProblemPump again, we urgently need a better handpump“.
At the end of the day, I found that the communities had to choose between:
1. Suffer & Pay: In case they can raise cash for repairs, they manage to keep the pump working, but every year this puts them back some 200 to up to 500 US$ per year (depending on depth and number of users). This is serious money for them that they rather spend on other things.
2. Give up & Suffer: In case they cannot raise enough cash for repairs, repairs are postponed and after a while, the pump is abandoned.
However, in either situation, people are not happy with their handpump. Detailed studies all over Africa revealed that on average, depending on the region, 40% to 70% of the rural communities (especially the poor communities!) fall into the second “Give-Up” category. It is estimated that in Africa today over 300.000 handpumps are not working. I was Shocked!
Will this be the future of Africa? Women running for the last working handpump… ??
Conclusion: All these “nice” donor water projects are not helping Africa in the end at all. In many cases the donors and NGOs just keep paying for the repairs, just to avoid that people are without water. This seems a nice charity, but in fact, this is an unhealthy, humiliating and non-sustainable situation.
“Scrap-Pumps“… is what these rusting pumps are called in Africa. The people in Africa hate them.
So I asked myself, “do I want to be part of this drama, is this the kind of work to be proud of?
For me the solution was clear: Africa needed urgently a more reliable pump with a backup service system and I decided that if nobody else would develop a real reliable pump, I take up that challenge one day and do it myself.
Many years later, in 2001, I was the manager of one of the largest Rural Water Projects in Kenya, the RWD project in Kisii. To no surprise, I found that in also our project area the standard handpumps in use (Afridev and India MK2) were also breaking down at an alarming rate, 3 to 4 times a year. With our technical staff, we discussed these issues and we came up with first ideas of what later would be the BluePump. We called it at that time the “AfriPump”. See the WEDC report 2004 on handpumps in Africa. (click here)
After Kenya, I worked for several years in South Angola as an advisor to the Water Department. The Director was a bright man and well aware of the broken pump problem and in favor of the idea to help to develop a more durable pump.
We installed together with him the first models in Lubango. The local people were very much excited about the pump and because we choose the color blue, they called it “Bomba Azul” or “BluePump”.
One of the first models of the BluePump in Lubango, southern Angola, 2006
Note that the initial position of the spout was on the side of the pump. However, because most pumps in Africa have the spout on the front, we re-designed this to make it more easy to fit on an old India MK2 or Afridev drainage platform.
When I finished my assignment in Angola in 2007, I decided to stay in the Netherlands to fully focus on the further development and promotion of this better pump in Africa and I started with my partner Sureyya Gök the FairWater Foundation.
Our idea was to start with FairWater a “Social Enterprise”, though at that time this concept was not yet well known, to combine the professional promotion of this social product; the BluePump with doing our own water projects at the same time.
Because of my extensive field experience all over Africa with most of the handpumps in use, and my contacts all over Africa, I was in a unique position to finally bring all accumulated experience and other persons to the drawing board to work on that mission.
Some people were against the idea of a better pump
However, to my surprise, I also found out that it is not easy to introduce new and better technology. Many people in the NGO world seem not like this innovation. It became clear to me that there were many vested (financial) interests (including corruption issues) that tried to stop the BluePump because they prefer to continue business as usual.
Fortunately, there were also many honest and open-minded people that shared my worries about the many broken down pumps. To name a few, Oxfam in Kenya, UNICEF in Mozambique, GRA in Tanzania and ASAP in Burkina and many others also strongly believed in the necessity of this humanitarian project and supported our mission for a more reliable handpump.
I am therefore most grateful to those who were prepared to buy and test the first BluePumps in most difficult field conditions. These tests revealed, of course, some flaws in the design, especially when the pump was used in very deep boreholes, but we could solve all these issues and update the older designs with these new items.
The result is that today, we have an active dealer network in many countries in Africa with over 1.200 BluePumps working every day, providing clean water to over 500.000 people at a very low price.
The BluePump is now recognized by Oxfam and other leading NGOs as the most reliable handpump for Africa (click here). Users of the BluePump know where to go in case of a problem, due to our “BlueZone” approach, where BluePumps are installed and maintained by the local private sector. See also click here.
To make BluePumps available for all water projects, we delegated the manufacturing and distribution of the BluePump to BOODE BV (Click here) in The Netherlands.
The net revenues from selling the BluePump is supporting our ongoing BluePump evaluation and R&D and the limited overhead of our own FairWater Projects. Therefore when people donate to FairWater, 100% of the donations can be used to send more BluePumps to Africa; we do NOT take a part of your donations to cover our overhead like most NGOs do.
But there is more; introducing water bottles for kids.
Already a few years ago, I noticed that African kids were inventing all kind of solutions to make a water bottle for themselves to have water always at hand, see the picture below.
When I started to think about this, it all came together and made perfect sense. Of course “only” a handpump is not enough to solve the water problems, they need just a little bit more! Imagine, if you have only one handpump for a school with 500 kids, and they have to go one by one to the pump to drink? Besides, using your hands for drinking is also not very hygienic and a lot of water is wasted.
So we developed with our partner Join-the-Pipe.org the ambitious “Bottles & Pumps Project”; to give all kids in Africa their own, private water bottle. The bottles come free of charge, they are paid for by our sponsors. To transport the bottles to the communities for free, we simply put them into the pipes of the BluePump!
The Pump Crisis is not yet solved... The next important step is to create more awareness among Governments and NGOs to stop with poor quality rusting pumps and change to durable BluePumps to make BlueZones with durable Bottles & Pumps.
Let’s hope that all NGOs and donors will understand one day that it’s wiser to invest in a solution that is sustainable and makes people happy for a lifetime, even when this cost a bit more in the beginning.
Paul van Beers: My role in the FairWater Foundation is to further elaborate on Research & Development of the BluePump and to coordinate the projects of FairWater sponsors. Some more about my working experience. I worked for Universities, Consultancies, World Bank, Governments and international NGOs in Rural & Peri-Urban Water Supply projects in Africa and lived for many years in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mozambique, Kenya, and Angola. I did many studies to rural water supply in Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania and in Zambia.
Sureyya Gök, is the Co-founder and director of the FairWater Foundation. Apart from her professional career as Director of Finance of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Branch of an international company in Amsterdam, Sureyya has also a passion for social work. From 2006 to 2013 she was also a municipal councilor in The Netherlands, with a special focus on how to contribute to better conditions for children and elderly people and active in the Multi Ethnical Network for Women (MEV) to empower women with a foreign background.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, or if you would like to be a sponsor of a BluePump in Africa, or would like to become a FairWater partner and start with your own BlueZone in Africa.
Our visiting address is:
Keizersgracht 676, 1017 ET
Phone: +31 20 260.1171