Maintenance in a BlueZone

Altough the BluePump handpump is very reliable and basically maintenance free, we do not recommend to install a BluePump in the middle of nowhere and only come back after 10 years.

It has become clear in the last 25 years, that handpump maintenance seems to be an insolvable problem. Most standard community handpumps are overused and break down every 3 to 4 month.

The way to maintain these pumps can be described by the "VLOM Model" Village Level Operated & Maintained). The VLOM model goes back to the "Water Decade" (1980 to 1990), the basic idea behind it was that handpumps must be repaired by the Community itself. The reason behind this was the assumption that it would be too costly for the Government to take care of the maintenance.

However, already in the nineties it became clear that VLOM did not work for most communities. See the revolutionary and bold article of Micheal Wood of CARE international, 1994, Click Here)

Nevertheless, most NGO water projects just ignored or denied Woods concerns and kept on going to impose VLOM management, because that was "the best they could do".

Only in 2010, 16 years after the article of Michel Wood, after a lot of debates in the Rural Water Supply sector between VLOM deniers and VLOM promotors, , in a shocking but honest publication of UNICEF / RWSN (Click Here) it was finally officially acknowledged that the VLOM model did not delivered the anticipated results. 

The UNICEF / RWSN study pointed out that due to the contineous maintanance problems, at least over 40% of the handpumps in Africa are not functional anymore. And even worse, that in fact the NGO sector greatly contributed to that.

The BlueZone Maintenance Model (BMM)
To avoid that also the BluePump would have such maintenance problems, we asked the communities, the Governments and local pump mechanics what would be the best maintenance model for the BluePump. With their valueble imput we developed and introduced the "BlueZone" O&M system, which is now considered to be the most sustainable way to maintain rural handpumps.


The BlueZone principle
The basic idea of a BlueZone, is that the handpump must be maintained by the person or organisation that has installed the handpump in the community. This is often the Regional Pump Mechanic (RPM). 

This is a major difference with VLOM; because in the VLOM concept the NGO installs the handpump and leaves it at at the community to solve the problem of maintenace.

In order to monitor the performance of the pump and to make logistics more easy for the RPM, it is strongly recommended that the local Government, normally the District Water Officer (DWO) has a leading role to coordinate this process; from the selection of the Community, the installation of the pump, to the maintenance of the pump and to keep a sufficient stock of spare parts.

The advantages of the BlueZone Maintenance Model are:
1.) Monitoring is taken care of (which pump works and which pump doesn't);
2.) Direct feed back on the quality of the service is secured;
3.) People know right from the start of the water project where to go in case of problems;
4.) NGOs and others who want to do a water project also know where to go;
5. The DWO can indicate where are the most urgent locations;
6.) Funding is used in an optimal way;
7.) The DWO can keep a stock of all spare parts needed;
8.) The DWO can also keep a stock of pumps as well for direct support.

We know that many NGOs do not trust or don't like to work with Local Governments for various reasons. Indeed, there have been some challenges in the past. But we stronlgy believe (backed up by many examples) that putting the Local Government in the lead for planning, installation and maintenance, is the best way to sustainable development.

The pump Caretaker
The day to day  operation of the BluePump in a BlueZone is supervised by only 1 person. Often this person (Caretaker) is selected in the community by a Water Committee.

Please note: that this person is NOT supposed to repair the pump, he/she is just responsable for the daily operation, such as opening and closing the pump when needed, organizing the fetching of water in case of high demand, keeping lifestock away from the pump and cleaning of the area around the pump.

"The Caretaker" takes care of the pump operation. Sometimes the Caretaker is paid (about US$ 10,- to max 20 US$ per month) for this activity or not, that is up to the community, or up to the user group of the pump to decide.

In case it is decided that people should pay a fixed amount per bucket, best is that they pay directly to the Careaker. In that case we advise to use "BlueCoins" to pay for a bucket of 20 liter of water. BlueCoins make payment more easy and can be obtained with the country dealer and with the District administration. However, keep in mind that we advise that this payment is ONLY to pay for the salery of the caretaker, so NOT for repairs. For 100% transparency, these different costs must always be separated.

The Regional Pump Mechanic (RPM).
The Regional Pump Mechanic assist communities in the unlikely case of a Murphy problem. They are trained and supported by the BluePump Country representative as well as by the Local Districts Water officer (LDW).

In case of a problem with the pump, the pump Caretaker will aks the RPM or the DWO for assistance, whatever is more easy. After fixing the problem, the RPM will receive a small fixed amount from the Pump Caretaker, usually 25 US$ and will report back to the DWO on the kind of the problem. The DWO will pay the rest of the bill and his travel expenses.

The spares are free of charge to the Community, because each Community in the BlueZone contributes yearly about US$ 50,- for this service. 

A yearly check-up of all BluePumps provides monitoring and secures the water supply. With many BluePumps in a BlueZone, communities profit from the upscaling of this repair service and pay normally less than 75,- US$ per pump per year for assistance.

BlueCoins to pay for water at the BluePump

The BlueCoins
A BlueCoin (BC) is in fact a small plastic blue card (Credit card size). Each BC has the value of 20 liter of water and has an unique number, so the caretaker knows the numbers of "his" BC cards.

The Caretaker (or the Water Committee) sells these cards upfront, with or without a bonus. For one BlueCoin, that represents a value of 20 liter bucket of water, we recommend a selling price for these 20 liter of about US$ 0,01, (about 5,0 FCFA) more is definitly not needed.

Because official coins with a value of 5,0 FCFA are hard to find in the bush, the BlueCoin system comes in very handy: For instance, 10 BlueCoin cards may sell for US$ 0,10 or equivalent in local currency, e.g. around 50 FCFA. Based on an average of 150 buckets per day, this gives a revenue of 150 x 0,01 = US 1,50 (about 800 FCFA) per day, or about US$ 45,- (25.000 FCFA) per month.

In practise this will be less, around US$ 30,- (about 17.000 FCFA) per month over the year, because the demand for water varies during the year; in the rainy season people buy less water. However, The remaining US$ 30,- is largely enough to pay for the service of the Caretaker.

When people pay for the water with the BlueCoin card, the caretaker receives these cards back in return for 20 liters of water, and the cards can be sold again. This is a simple and fool-proof system to regulate and monitor the selling of water at the pump.

The money of the BlueCoins is only to be used to pay for the services of the caretaker. In the unlikely case a repairs is needed, the water committee is called in and collects the extra cost for the repair from the users.

It is NOT adviseble to set aside a small amount each time for repairs. Because the BluePump will normally function for many years, there is a real risk that the money for the repairs is used up for other things when it is finally needed for a repair.

Cost of repairs
On average, based on data of over 1.000 BluePumps in Africa, it is estimated that an average repair or service cost between US$ 10,- to max US$ 50,- (between 5.000 and 25.000 FCFA) all included and may be needed every 3 to 5 years. 

Cost per m3
A BluePump produces on average about 1.000 m3 per year (3.000 liter per day). Based on statistical data of repair cost of less than US$ 10,- per year, the operational cost (OPEX) per m3 water from a BluePump is less than US$ 0,01 per m3 or less than US$ 1,0 per month.

handpump bluepump
BluePumps =  Reliable water for the lowest price

Because of the simplicity and reliability of the BluePump, breakdowns are rare and can easily be resolved without using spare parts. Nevertheless, in a BlueZone O&M system, all necessary BluePump spare parts are locally available with the DWO. The BlueZone concept makes the BluePump the best and cheapest handpump to operate for community water supply.