Although 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.
Even the best Community HandPump (CHP) in the world, will "later than sooner" need some attention, and so does the BluePump.
Having said that, the question is still: "What is the best way to maintain a Community handpump?" There were much discussions about this topic for many years. The traditional way to maintain CHPs was the "VLOM Model" (Village Level Operated & Maintained). This goes back to the "Water Decade" (1980 to 1990).
The basic idea behind VLOM was to accommodate the many NGO water projects so that they just could install a handpump in a village, give some training to a local Water Committee on how to fix problems, make a picture for the fundraiser and leave. Based on the assumption that the handpump will work happily ever after, with the management of the users.
This VLOM model was also convenient for the local Government because they had no responsibility whatsoever for the functionality of the pump. In other words, if the pump would fail, everybody would blame the community. And of course, they did...
However, already in the nineties, it became clear that this VLOM system did not work for most communities. See the revolutionary and "bold" article of Micheal Wood of CARE international, 1994, Click Here)
Nevertheless, NGO water projects just ignored or denied Woods concerns and continued to impose VLOM handpump with VLOM management, because that was "the way it should be done". Even worse, if you dare to question that, you would receive fierce opposition from the NGOs.
Only in 2010, 16 years after the bold article of Michel Wood and after a lot of hot debates in the Rural Water Supply sector between VLOM critics and VLOM promotors, the devastating evidence of broken handpumps all over Africa could not be denied anymore and in a shocking but honest publication, UNICEF / RWSN (Click Here) finally admitted officially that the VLOM model did not work and that the NGOs were more to blame than the communities. These poor people actually never got a fair chance to play their role in the maintenance of the pumps.
The bold UNICEF / RWSN study concluded that at least over 40% of the handpumps in Africa (in some regions up to 70%) are not functional anymore. And even worse, they honestly pointed out that in fact the NGO sector greatly contributed to that because of their unwillingness to change their approach and not taking responsibilities for their water projects.
There is now growing awareness, that the old VLOM model is not working, see for instance the critical article of Dr. Ellie Chows, on failing VLOM in Africa (click here).
The BlueZone Maintenance Model (BMM)
To avoid that also the BluePump would have such maintenance problems, we did not "imposed" a better approach, instead, we asked the communities and local pump mechanics all over Africa what THEY would suggest as the best maintenance model for the BluePump.
With their valuable input, we developed and introduced the "BlueZone" O&M system, which is now considered by the communities and pump mechanics that have experienced this, to be the most sustainable way to maintain rural handpumps.
The BlueZone Approach
The basic idea of a BlueZone, is that the BluePumps are grouped together, in a zone with many BluePumps, with a central back-up for maintenance.
This allows the users of the BluePump to:
1. Have an uninterrupted service, 24/7 clean water;
2. Pay as less as possible for their water supply;
3. Have once a year, a check-up of the condition of the BluePump.
4. Rent or "lease" the pump for a fair price.
5. Being part of an effective monitoring system.
In the exceptional case of a problem, the community will always know where to go for a quick repair of the BluePump. This may sound obvious, but reality shows that in most cases with the so-called "standard" handpumps in Africa this is not the case.
With BluePumps in a BlueZone, such a "Rapid Response" (RR) is possible because all the BluePumps in a BlueZone are interconnected through management and monitoring by a Regional Organization, preferably the District Water Department (DWD).
We prefer that the local Government DWD (if possible) takes the lead in this because, in the end, this will facilitate monitoring and building of an institutional memory.
In case of a problem, the Pump Care Taker will contact the DWD and ask for a repair. After the DWD has received the standard fee for a repair of about US$ 50,-, the DWD takes action and will send the Regional Pump Mechanic (RPM) to look into the problem.
Every RPM has a designated area in which he installs and maintains the BluePumps. So he knows the community and the community knows him. This builds trust, which is important for a good co-operation.
The "lease concept"
It is obvious that most rural communities cannot buy a BluePump themselves. The good news is that in the ideal BlueZone approach this is not needed. It is the donor who invests in the infrastructure and orders the BluePump and donates the pumps to the District via the Central Government, NOT directly to the communities. The DWD will manage the distribution of these sponsored BluePumps to the communities and collects the community contribution for a new BluePump and payments for maintenance.
In the ideal BlueZone, the communities can request BluePumps (in new boreholes or in an old borehole to replace broken pumps) directly at the District Water Officer (DWO). They have BluePumps in stock and will make a simple contract with the representative of that community. The community engages itself to assist with the installation and must pay for the cost of the installation, which is normally in the order of 500 US$ to the RPM. After that, the community must pay a yearly fee of about US$ 50,- to US$ 100,- (depending on local conditions such as Pump density and distances to cover) for a yearly checkup by the designated Regional Pump Mechanic (RPM), under the supervision of the DWO.
The yearly collection of the yearly lease amount, as well as the additional fixed cost of occasional repairs, is done by the pump caretaker, with the support of the local water committee.
This yearly check-up is at the same time a good opportunity to monitor the performance of the BluePump.
In the case of a breakdown; the pump caretaker will contact the DWO, who will register the service request and call in the RPM. The community will pay a fixed fee for the repair of about US$ 25,- to US$ 50,- (depending on local conditions).
Again, it is strongly recommended that the local Government will have the leading role to secure the basic water service in their area. They take action; from the installation of the pump to the maintenance of the pump, to keep a sufficient stock of pumps & spare parts and to collect the payments of the community, in the way they think it's best.
The advantages of the BlueZone Maintenance Model are:
1.) Monitoring is taken care of by the DWD (which pump works and which pump doesn't);
2.) Direct feedback 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 DWD can indicate where are the most urgent locations;
6.) Funding is used in an optimal way;
7.) The DWD can keep a stock of all spare parts needed;
8.) The DWD can also keep a stock of pumps as well for direct support.
We know that many NGOs do not like or trust or don't like to work with Local Governments in Africa for various reasons. Indeed, there have been some challenges in the past. But we strongly believe (backed up by many examples) that putting the Local Government in the lead of planning, installation, and maintenance, is the best way in the end to have sustainable development. They will always be there, they will build up the regional institutional memory, while NGOs and the private sector have a tendency to disappear after a while.
The HandPump Caretaker (HPC)
The day to day operation of the BluePump in a BlueZone is best to be supervised by only 1 person. Often this person (the HPC) 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 responsible for the daily operation, such as opening and closing the pump when needed, organizing the fetching of water in case of high demand, keeping livestock away from the pump and cleaning of the area around the pump.
Sometimes the HPC is paid (about US$ 10,- to max 20 US$ per month) for this activity, this is up to the community, or up to the user group of the pump to decide.
When people should pay a fixed amount per bucket, best is that they pay directly to the HPC. In that case, we advise using "BlueCoins" to pay for a bucket of 20 liters of water. BlueCoins make payment easier and can be obtained with the BluePump country dealer.
The Regional Pump Mechanic (RPM).
The Regional Pump Mechanic assists 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 easier. After fixing the problem, the RPM will receive a fixed contribution from the pump caretaker and report back to the DWO on the kind of the problem. The DWO will pay the rest of the bill and his travel expenses.
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 about 50,- US$ per pump per year to "lease" the BluePump.
A BlueCoin (BC) is, in fact, a small plastic blue card (Credit card size). Each BC has the value of 20 liters of water and has a unique number, so the caretaker knows the numbers of "his" BC cards.
The Caretaker (or the Water Committee) sells these cards upfront to the users, e.g. 10 at the same time, (therefore there is a small hole for s string to hold them together) with or without a bonus. One BlueCoin has a value of 20 liters of water; we recommend a selling price for this of about US$ 0,01, (about 5,0 FCFA) more is definitely not needed.
Salary of the Caretaker
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 practice 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 large enough to pay for the maintenance of the BluePump.
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.
Only for the caretaker
The money of the BlueCoins is only to be used to pay for the services of the caretaker. In the unlikely case, a repair is needed, the water committee is called in and collects the extra cost for the repair from the users.
We do NOT advise 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 and not anymore available when it is finally needed for a repair. Keeping the money somewhere will just create problems of trust in the village.
Cost of repairs
On average, based on data of over 1.000 BluePumps in Africa, it is estimated that BluePump OPEX cost, after an initial period of 3 to 5 years without any major issue, will be between US$ 10,- to about US$ 50,- per year (between 5.000 and 25.000 FCFA). That is the lowest maintenance cost compared with any other hand pump.
The rest of the maintenance cost will be the cost of travels to collect the yearly contribution and for repairs.
The production cost of BluePump water.
The daily Technical Operational Expenses (TOPEX), excluding the payment for a pump caretaker for a BluePump in a BlueZone is about 25,- to 50,- US$ per year, (FCFA 10.000 to 30.000).
For this amount, you have about 4.000 liters per day, enough for 50 families, while each family will pay an equal share of the yearly TOPEX. In case there are 50 families, each family is paying about US$ 1,0 of about 600 FCFA per year. This is about US$ 0,003 per day (or about 1,6 FCFA per day).
This is about US$ 0,03 per m3 (20 FCFA per m3)
That is really affordable.
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.
All expert on rural water supply agree that the BlueZone concept with the durable BluePump is the best and cheapest O&M solution for sustainable and affordable community water supply.