by University of Technology Sydney and Oxfam

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This report presents the results of an evaluation of the Fairwater BluePump, an emerging rural water supply technology in sub-Saharan Africa. Claims about the BluePump’s durability and minimal maintenance requirements have provoked significant interest within the rural water sector. This evaluation set out to assess the suitability of the BluePump as a rural water supply technology, taking into account its operational performance, the experiences of water users, the views of local stakeholders, and the broader contextual factors that impinge upon its sustainability.

The assessment took place between February and May 2016 in two BluePump strongholds: Turkana in northern Kenya and The Gambia in West Africa. These settings provide an opportunity to consider the handpump’s strengths and weaknesses amidst vastly different socio-economic, hydrogeological, climatic and institutional settings. Data were collected at 300 waterpoints, including 130 BluePump installations. In order to contextualise the relative pros and cons of the BluePump, data were also collected for a variety of competing handpump models.

Similar stories emerge from both Turkana and The Gambia. The BluePump appears to be
a more robust technology than its competitors, in that the mean time between breakdowns is greater than other handpumps. Local perceptions add weight to the BluePump’s credentials – water users in both settings rate BluePumps as more reliable than other handpump models. Nonetheless, the BluePump is not maintenance free. In total, one in four pumps inspected was not producing water, and breakdowns occur on average about once every three years. The most common mechanical faults in both countries relate to rods, pipes and cylinders. A number of other minor issues were observed, including worn shock absorbers, cracked outflow tubes, pump head corrosion, and damage to the concrete pedestal. The developer continues to modify the design of the BluePump in response to some of these technical issues; however it is too early to appraise the impact of these changes.

The BluePump’s main disadvantages are its heaviness and high upfront cost. The
difficulty of operation is a widespread complaint, even for the relatively shallow installation depths in The Gambia. Increased reliability also comes at a cost – the BluePump is around 2-3 times more expensive than the India Mark II and Afridev in Kenya. However, the cost difference is less marked with respect to the PB Mark II in The Gambia, and the BluePump is considerably cheaper than the Duba Tropic II in Kenya. The flipside is that the BluePump’s annual maintenance costs appear to be substantially lower than other pumps.

Ultimately, the full benefits of a more robust handpump will only translate into long-term sustainability if the technology is coupled with effective maintenance systems. In both settings, a centralized approach to maintenance is adopted, which has the advantage of circumventing spare part supply chain challenges. In Turkana, a well-coordinated and subsidised maintenance service is made available to BluePump users by the Diocese of Lodwar, while in The Gambia, the BluePump distributor Swe-Gam offers repair services on an ad hoc basis. However, in both settings there are communities who are unaware of these services, and many are unable or unwilling to pay for them. Furthermore, the commercial viability and long-term sustainability of Swe-Gam’s repair service in The Gambia is highly doubtful. As a result, the average downtime for the BluePump in The Gambia is around 2 to 3 times longer than Mark II handpumps.

Overall, the BluePump holds promise: it is – and can continue to be – a suitable rural water supply technology in different contexts. However, the technology in and of itself is
not a panacea for rural water sustainability dilemmas. As with any hardware, the pump
inevitably needs maintenance and repairs. This in turn requires effective institutional and business models, and rests upon the willingness and ability of communities to pay for these services.


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