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Rationale: It makes no sense to be drilling new wells at the same rate that wells are breaking down and sitting unused. Yet, handpumps sitting broken continues to be one of the world’s greatest development failures.
When a community gets a safe water supply, it meets their immediate domestic needs. However, pumps have parts that wear, and when the pump stops working, the community instantly looses its access to safe drinking water.
This is why it is important for every community, regardless of size, to have access to more than one water source. Ideally it would be two or more drilled wells with handpumps, but it could even be a dug well with the water being boiled while the pump is being fixed.
Before a project is started, a community should buy into the idea that they are responsible for maintaining the pump. They should have a maintenance plan in-place so that everyone knows exactly what to do when their pump breaks to get it back in service as soon as possible. Besides the “No Plan” option, there are three types of maintenance options:
The most common activities that affect water quality in developing countries are gasoline handling, waste from free-roaming livestock, indiscriminate waste disposal, close proximity of latrines to wells, and nearby open dug wells that provide a direct conduit down to aquifers that may be supplying the wells which provide the community with safe drinking water.
Gasoline can be a severe water contaminant. One litre of gasoline can contaminate 1 million litres of groundwater. Fuel contamination can come from leaking car gas tanks, from spills while refueling vehicles or generators, or from leaking fuel storage tanks. All gas and diesel must be kept far away from wells because once it has become contaminated, the well will be unusable for many years.
Free-roaming livestock can be controlled at source and/or denied access to the well area by building a fence around the pump and pad.
Planned waste disposal can be achieved relatively quickly and for low cost in most rural areas in developing countries. It can be as simple as digging a hole down gradient from the wells at a distance of at least 100m.
In some areas, open dug wells are actually the most challenging problem. Where space is limited, new wells are often drilled in close proximity to shallow dug wells – in some cases, within a few feet! The understanding at the time, is that the dug well will be filled-in. But communities often end up keeping these wells as the water can be rapidly drawn with a pail on a rope for uses such as laundry. This is understandable since keeping the old dug well reduces wait times for the hand pump and also reduces wear and tear on the pump.
The main purpose of having site control fencing is to keep animals away from the well. Cows, goats and other domestic animals are attracted by the smell of water and come to drink.
Unfortunately, they frequently defecate by the well and often deal with itchy spots by rubbing up against the pump, sometimes damaging it.
Building a fence around a well also helps create a strong sense of ownership, like it does for the yards that people fence around their homes.
In most communities, there is a heavy demand for water for two or three hours in the early morning and two or three hours in the late afternoon. In-between these times, pumps sit idle.
Idle pumps are magnets for children. They use the pump to produce water for play. And when the want a drink, they wastefully pump lots of it while waiting for the cooler water to come to the surface. Children also have been known to pick at pump ID# tags until they come off and to put bent nails, bottle caps, sticks, and stones into the pump until it breaks -- causing prolonged periods of pump down-time and necessitating time-consuming, expensive repairs. Most of these issues are eliminated by locking the pump handle from 10 AM until 4 PM.
Most Lifewater Canada wells are completed using Afridev handpumps. Afridev is short for “AFRIcan DEVelopment”. Because they are public domain pumps made in a number of countries, the supply is much more reliable than any private company pump.
Afridev handpumps are designed for Village Level Operation & Maintenance (VLOM). This is done by reducing the number of needed tools to a specialty foot valve puller, two open box wrenches and a lug wrench (like you use to tighten the nuts on car tires).
The other main innovation was an open top cylinder, allowing the pump rod to be pulled without having to lift out the heavy rising main. This enables the most commonly worn part of the pump (the leathers or pump rings) to be quickly, safely and hygienically changed without great risk of dropping parts or tools into the well. More details on pump maintenance can be found in Section 17 of the Lifewater Well Drilling Manual.
Starting in 1997, Lifewater has trained Pump Repair Technicians in every village where we drill a well. However, the response is mixed, with a few technicians stealing the tools, others moving away, and others not feeling confident or experienced enough to attempt a repair. Much work still needs to be done to make Village Pump Repair Technicians more effective. But the benefits are obvious: shorter pump down times and less work and expense for the Lifewater teams.
Since 1995, every Lifewater water project has included training of a Pump Caretaker. Not all have carried on as intended, but the position helps ensure that the pump lasts longer, that the water stays safe, and that conflicts don’t escalate.
One of the key jobs of the Project Caretaker is to keep an eye on the pump while it is in use. By ensuring that the handle is operated full stroke, the pump cylinder will last much longer than when there is rapid, short pumping strokes which cause just a short section of the cylinder to wear.
The Caretaker makes sure that people are not bathing, watering animals, doing dishes, or washing laundry at the pump. The caretaker can also make sure that children are not sticking their fingers up the spout after toileting to help rinse away residual “pupu”.
The Caretaker can make sure that “Social Etiquette” is practiced at the pump. This can include preventing young girls from being forced from their place in line, littering, toileting in the vicinity of the pump, drawing excessive amounts of water, etc.
Finally, the Caretaker is the most likely person to notice that the pump is not performing as it should. This observation can be followed-up with a conversation with the Village Pump Repair Technician and/or a phone call to Lifewater to ensure that the pump is repaired before it stops working, leaving the community without safe drinking water.