Handpump sustainability challenges; what the literature says


Sustainability of handpumps has proven to be a major challenge in projects where handpumps are being installed as a community water supply. With the strong focus of the WASH alliance on sustainability, guided by the FIETS sustainability principles, PRACTICA Foundation has made a start with analyzing problems related to handpump sustainability. The first part of this problem analysis is a literature review. This blog gives some more details of the literature review, explained according to the FIETS sustainability principles. The second part of the problem analysis is based on input from local partners of the WASH Alliance organizations. A questionnaire has been send to local partners of Simavi and AMREF. The results of this input will be described in a second blog which will be posted within two weeks. Later on a third part follows about alternative handpump management models.


Financial: This is probably the most important factor where many things go wrong at the handpumps. Handpumps in most (African) countries are managed by the local communities. A local water point committee has the responsibility to, amongst others, collect money (either per volume of water or per period) for the maintenance of the pump. Unfortunately, at most locations this does not work out well. Given reasons in literature are the lack of motivation (since everything has to be done on a voluntary basis) and the lack of skills for the financial management.

Institutional: Activities within the WASH Alliance include capacity building at different levels, and that is exactly what is needed for handpump sustainability. Water point committees, but also the handpump mechanics and the local government entities need this capacity building. Related to the water committees, the capacity building can include training for managerial and administrative skills.

Environmental: Problems related to handpump sustainability are not in first instance environmental challenges.

Technical: In this respect, the WASH Alliance has a twofold approach. The first is to adapt the technology to the context: a preference for the use of local materials, a level of complexity matching with local expertise levels and the use of affordable technologies. But the current practices of handpumps show that mostly imported materials are used (most handpumps are imported from India) and that it is difficult for local people to conduct repairs. The second part is to adapt the context to the technologies needed. This involves the training of local stakeholders, the involvement of local entrepreneurs and the introduction of appropriate revenue systems. But in practice, there is a lack of training of stakeholder and involvement of local entrepreneurs and the revenue systems are not in place or not functioning well. An often mentioned problem which is related to both parts of the technical sustainability is the bad availability of spare parts. The long supply chain of spare parts has many weak links and the local context is not enough adapted to arrange this supply chain in a better way.

Social: In order to be social sustainable, one of the requirements is that the intervention is fully inclusive for all groups. Here again, finances play a role. Are defaulters excluded from using the handpump? What if they really have financial problems? These issues arise in every community, but it is hard to find locations where the responsible committee is well prepared to handle these issues. Introducing a situation where payment for water is normal is often hard to combine with the social conditions in rural areas.

To summarize, within the current mode of implementation the sustainability of handpumps is in great danger. This fact has been widely acknowledges in literature in the last few years, but there have not been large scale reforms in handpump implementation projects. The main problems described in literature are the lack of a regular money collection and the bad spare parts availability. These problems make that a handpump will only sustain as long as operation and maintenance is supported by a project or as long as no maintenance is required.

A summary of the literature review can be found here.

Alida Adams is project engineer at PRACTICA Foundation