Handpump sustainability challenges; experiences from the Alliance partners


Two weeks ago some results of a literature review on handpump sustainability challenges were presented in a blog. The current blog presents the following step: the input from the WASH Alliance partners who work with handpumps. In total fourteen local partners of Simavi and AMREF have filled in a questionnaire about problems with handpumps. Thirteen responses came from Sub-Saharan Africa, one from Asia. The respondents were asked to tick, in a long list of problems, all problems which they have in their project areas.

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Two of the 36 problems in the questionnaire were most often mentioned to be present in the project areas of these partners. The first problem is that spare parts are not easily available and the second that the voluntary basis is not enough motivation for the water committee members to commit to their tasks. Eight other problems were mentioned often, namely:

  • Water committees do not have the capacity for the financial management;
  • Communities do not feel ownership over the handpumps;
  • Too many users per handpump;
  • There is no external support to strengthen the spare parts supply;
  • Government does not take care of the handpumps;
  • Spare parts are too expensive;
  • Water committees do not have regular meetings; and
  • There is no preventive maintenance.

Spare parts: Problems with spare parts are most often mentioned. Spare parts are not easily available, there is no external support to strengthen the spare parts supply and the spare parts are too expensive. It is beyond doubt that in many Sub-Saharan African countries there are problems with the spare parts supply chain for handpumps. Out of the 14 partners who gave input, there was one partner from outside Africa and that was the only one who did not mention problems with spare parts.

Water point committees: After the spare parts, most mentioned problems are related to the water point committees. The voluntary basis is not enough motivation for the committee member, they do not have the capacity for the financial management, they do not have regular meetings and do not conduct preventive maintenance. At many locations the committees do not fulfil their tasks and responsibilities.

Other: Other often mentioned problems are that communities do not feel ownership over the handpumps, which also makes them feeling less responsible for the maintenance. And the fact that too many people are using the handpumps makes that the handpumps need more maintenance. The last point is that governments do not take care of the handpumps.

Combining the literature review and the input from the partners, two main problems remain: poor spare parts supply and disfunctioning of the water committees (in literature review in reverse order). Peter Harvey states in a recent RWSN publication that it is very difficult to have a good supply chain for spare parts in Sub-Saharan Africa since the production of handpumps and components is mainly in India and most customers are water committees or private mechanics based in rural areas. This requires a good distribution network from the point of manufacture to the points of use. All actors in the chain need to have some profit and still the price and quality need to be acceptable.

It is clear that there are also many problems with the local water committees. They have difficulties doing their job, partly because they have to do everything on a voluntary basis and because they do not get the external support they need. They face problems in collecting money and managing the finances well. They neglect to do preventive maintenance.

It is also useful to analyse this situation from a higher organizational level. For example in one district there might be a few hundreds of handpumps. At every handpump there is a local water point committee who needs training on financial matters and on preventive maintenance. And in literature it is widely acknowledges that this support is not only once at the beginning but it needs to be followed up. This takes an enormous amount of time for the local government or any other local institution. Looking from a country or province perspective with many handpumps, it might be that the current (maximal decentralized) situation is not the most efficient option. In the process of searching for alternative management options, it is important to look for options where the management is arranged at a more central level (e.g. district level).

More about this search for hopeful alternative management options will follow soon in a third blog. If, in the meantime, you are interested to get a more detailed elaboration about the literature review and the input from the partners, you can send an email to alida.adams@practica.org.

Alida Adams is project engineer at PRACTICA Foundation