Click here Why people in Africa want BluePumps and SDGs need BluePumps.
My name is Paul van Beers, let me explain why the BluePump is not "just another handpump" and why we started with the BluePump Project.
Since 1985 I have been working in many Rural Water projects all over Africa and in 2002 I became the director of the RWD (Rural Water Development) project. The RWD project was one of the largest water projects and well known and respected in Kenya at the time, with 4 local offices and a staff of 67 people. My task was to work towards the closure of the project and to transform the project into a small local organization that could continue to give WASH service to the local communities.
Evaluation of the RWD project
The RWD project had realized over 1.500 water points in 15 years; dug-wells, rainwater harvesting systems, protected springs, and dug-wells & boreholes with a handpump. Coming close to the end of the project, it was appropriate to look back and evaluate the impact of our work.
Overall, RWD did rather well, especially with the dug wells and protected springs, but with our handpumps, there was a big problem; Over 50% of the pumps we installed was not in use anymore, especially pumps older than 5 years were abandoned and many communities complained about the quality of the pumps.
How was that possible? We had put in a lot of effort over the years in the usual activities such as social mobilization, training local water committees, spare part supply, etc. But even worse, based on our data of broken pumps, we estimated that this figure would go up with the years to come and it was to be expected that in 10 years time most if not all of the RWD pumps were just rusting away.
Yes, we were afraid that our RWD project would end the same as another major handpump project nearby, where 1.500 handpumps were installed some 10 years before, and nearly all handpumps were abandoned. This was a terrifying thought. But all over Africa people have the same issues with these old handpumps; they do not last.
What is going so wrong?
To cut a long story short, we had time to go around and interview many communities, to find the key-cause why so many pumps were not functioning anymore. It soon became clear that this was simply due to the never-ending technical problems of the pump. Apart from the high repair costs, also the whole process of organizing repairs, discussions about raising money, trying to keep money in the community, etc. etc. became too cumbersome. In fact, many communities were so fed up with all these issues and simply gave up. This was a very hard lesson ...
When we discussed these issues with the communities, it became clear that although they appreciated the water of the pump very much, that they did not want a similar pump again. If we were to install a new pump, they insisted that it should be a better pump.
When we replied that such a better pump did not exist, they looked surprised and simply said: "Why you mzungus, don't just invent a better pump?"
They had a valid point that triggered the idea to start with the BluePump project; So in fact, the people in Africa themselves initiated and voted for a more durable handpump, not only for the communities of the RWD project but for all rural communities in Africa. However, that is easier said than done...
With the competent staff of WRD, we took up this challenge, testing different concepts. Step-by-step we got an idea how and what was needed to satisfy the communities and the NGOs that would be the buyers of this new handpump for the communities.
After my assignment with RWD, I decided that this "better pump idea" was what I wanted to go for, it just made so much sense to have a better handpump for Africa. I continued this endeavor with an in-depth study of the field performance of all handpumps on the market, their good points, and their flaws. This gave me a basic starting idea how this durable handpump should look like.
Input from all stakeholders
To get more basic data, I visited many (11) handpump factories in 9 countries in Africa as well as in India and in The Netherlands, had many discussions on this subject with pump designers, people of SKAT, Unicef, the World Bank, NGOs, fieldworkers, technicians, social workers, local governments and study centres such as WEDC and the IRC. They all had valuable comments in this brainstorming process, which gave me a good idea what to do and what to avoid. In the meantime, I contacted a few quality companies in The Netherlands to also give their technical input how to solve specific problems and we made the first models for field testing. First in Angola and after that in Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi, and Swaziland, with the highly appreciated support from Unicef Mozambique, Oxfam Kenya, and IRD Swaziland.
Of course, we had to solve some unexpected problems, especially when we started to install BluePumps below 60m and up to 100m. in the very deep boreholes. We had to adapt the design several times with this input from the field, but with the continuous support of our partners, we could find the good solution, which resulted in the BluePump 2015 as the final sturdy design.
With over 1.000 BluePumps all over Africa, we are proud to say that the BluePump proved itself and that many NGOs and Governments now prefer BluePumps for their rural water projects.
Why is reliability so important?
It's all about trust. If you also have Africa experience in rural remote areas, you know what I mean. In the African rural communities, a handpump is often the only source of clean & safe water, especially in the dry season. Keep in mind that people do not only use the water for drinking, but also for irrigation and small livestock, for food security and some extra income. That means when the pump breaks down, everything falls apart; the crops dry out, the animals struggle and people lose time and energy to walk many kilometers to find the nearest handpump that still works or goes fetching water in the river, which is often polluted.
What makes the BluePump so special?
(1) First and foremost, the BluePump was developed to last a lifetime, solving water problems. To do so, we could use field performance data of all current handpumps on the market. We have to acknowledge that without this information we could never have achieved the success that we have now. It is indeed much more easy to improve upon existing designs, than designing a pump from scratch.
(2) Secondly, every detail in the design has an uncompromised focus on durability, not on reducing the cost of the pump itself. We strongly believed that sustainability is the result of reducing OPEX (operational costs), not by reducing CAPEX (manufacturing cost).
Why the name "BluePump"?
The first name we had for this new pump with RWD in Kenya was the "AfriPump"; a pump for Africa, but some years later, during later field trials in Angola, the people were referring to the pumps as their "BluePump" (or "Bomba Azul in Portugues), and so we decided that if the users call it the BluePump, we should honor that request.
The BluePump design was born in Africa; straightforward, strong & durable.
The unique technical "selling point" of the BluePumps is that there are no fast wearing parts. For instance, the BluePump piston has no rubber seals that you find in traditional pumps, so there is nothing to wear out or to be changed. We use long-lasting stainless steel ball valves and each rod has 2 floating centralizers that can be twisted over and over again to extend their life to over 10 years. The stainless steel rods are 2m. long with a diameter of 12mm with continuous threading, this means fewer vibrations, virtually unbreakable and easy adjustment of the length during installation.
Up to 100m deep installation
One of the main inconveniences of all standard handpumps is that they cannot be used effectively below 40m. We knew that this was a major issue because especially in those areas where the groundwater is deep, people are even more reliant on a handpump. Therefore we focused on the design to make sure it pumps comfortable at 80m deep and that it even can pump water from around 100m. deep. This is also convenient for spare parts; it's one pump type that fits all depth.
What about maintenance?
All equipment needs maintenance, also the BluePump. But it makes a huge difference (also in operational costs...) if you have to repair a handpump 4 to 6 times a year, or if you have to give the pump one time per year a simple check-up to assure another year of trouble-free functionality.
The BlueZone "Lease" Concept
For the BluePump we developed a unique "Maintenance Model", which can best be described as a "Lease Concept", in which the Water Department of a Province or District owns the BluePumps in an area (The "BlueZone") and is renting out the BluePumps to the community for a yearly amount of US$ 100,-.
In return, the Water Department makes sure that the pumps are in a good condition and repaired when needed. Because the BluePump is very reliable, repairs are rare and the Water Department has a large net income.
Why not give BluePumps to a community?
In the past, NGOs and water projects donated handpumps to the community and trained a water committee to take care of the maintenance. However, it became clear that this sympathetic idea was not working due to lack of money and lack of access to spare parts and technical assistance for major repairs.
When the Water Department owns the BluePumps in their area ("BlueZone"), this solves many problems, because the Water Department has:
And last but not least, the Water Department is always in need of budget support to function, because the money flow from the capital to the province is never enough to cover their normal operating costs.
The BluePump Lease Concept, therefore, creates a "win-win" situation: The Community has a 24/7 supply of clean water with assistance, and the Water Department has an additional source of income. This guarantees a sustainable situation.
Famous BOODE Service
Having a unique design that works great is one thing, but it should also be made available for the NGOs and end-users in a professional way, so we needed a professional and reliable company to be the world distributor of the BluePump. During my early work as a hydrogeologist in Africa since 1985, I often called on the expertise and quality materials from BOODE B.V. one of the leading international Dutch companies for quality borehole equipment worldwide and with a famous service. They agreed to include the BluePump their product line and to take care of the logistics that come with such a product.
Local BluePump representation in Africa
In many African countries we have now established BluePumps representations and contacts that have BluePumps and spare parts in stock and can give training on installation and maintenance, often provided by trained regional mechanics. They also give us continuous feedback, which enables us to constantly upgrade and improve the BluePump functionality and our service.
How far are we today?
Since the start of the BluePump project, with the help of our partners, we now provide over 1.000 communities with a sustainable access to safe water; that means more than 500.000 people have every day clean water nearby, for the lowest price in Africa. For the evaluation of the BluePump performance so far, it is important to consider that off course there have been with some (testing) types of BluePumps some problems, like for instance with rust with corrosive water, centralizer problems and with the sockets. However, these problems were all corrected, for example, the cap (41) and spout (34) are now made of stainless steel and the centralizers (25) and part of the pump system has been re-designed. Therefore, we consider the BluePump 2015 model as the final model.
There is now the widespread consensus of all international experts on a rural water supply that the BluePump has earned its first place as the most versatile handpump for Africa. Everyone who visits a BluePump in the field is directly impressed by its functional design and how easy it is to install and to maintain. But for us even more important is the honest opinion of the users of the BluePump; how they all agree that this is what they want for them; finally a handpump that gives a lot of water, is easy and cheap to operate and hardly ever breaks down.
It makes a lot of sense to replace broken pumps with durable BluePumps and uses BluePumps from now on in all water projects.
It is time for a change: Let's color Africa blue with durable BluePumps: Click here.
Click here, to see the BluePump Video how people in the field appreciate the BluePump.
BluePump in South Sudan since 2014
Last but not least
We hope that we could make it clear to you that the BluePump is not "just another handpump" that falls out of the sky, but is the result of over 25 years of experience of many experts, with a strong input of the users, NGOs and all other stakeholders all over Africa.
Bottles & Pumps
Since 2015 we work together with the Dutch NGO "Join-the-Pipe.org" Their mission is to create awareness for problems of plastic waste, especially by plastic bottles. Therefore they promote the use of their durable re-usable water bottles and public taps with drinking water. Every child should have it's own durable water bottles, they love it!
Many people and companies buy these "join-the-Pipe" bottles and by doing so, they donate the same bottle to school kids in Africa. This is our "BoGo-Bottles" project. We put these water bottles in the pipes of the BluePump, so when a BluePump is installed in a community, the bottles come out of the pipes, so the kids can fill their new bottles directly at the BluePump.
The future of Africa and Rural Water Supply
In the past, many water projects were not successful with their handpumps and all over Africa you could find broken and rusting handpumps to the disappointment of many communities. People lost confidence in the NGOs, their government and in their future. Therefore many of them choose to move to the cities and from there to Europe in search of a better future.
With the reliable and affordable BluePump water supply, this can now all change for the better. The BluePump gives the people hope again and motivates them to stay and to invest in a better future in their own communities.
Therefore, together with the FairWater Foundation based in Amsterdam, we call on all NGOs to consider using BluePumps for more sustainable results.
Interested in our "Bottles & Pumps", or maybe you want to sponsor a BluePump for a school?
Contact us, click here.