The Development of Effective Community Water Supply Systems Using Deep and Shallow Well Handpumps
Report No TT 132/00



Hand pumps are already used extensively allover South Africa for community water supplies. In some areas these pumps, or additional ones, are also used for livestock watering and even micro industries such as brick-making. Yet, despite the fact that boreholes equipped with hand pumps are among the simplest of community water supply technologies, much of the investment has been very ineffective in providing for the basic needs of these people because of high failure rates.

At any time, approximately 50% of the pumps installed for these dependent communities are not working. Often the users cannot even find out if the failure is due to the borehole drying up or to a mechanical pump failure. Of the pumps that are working, the majority are in extremely poor condition, causing long priming times in the morning and continued low delivery rates thereafter. The reason for the low delivery rates is not always clear. Pump handles have often been replaced by improvised ones, are loose at the point of attachment and have bearings that are worn right through. When pumps fail completely, it is often several months before they are repaired. The atrocious availability and performance are due to poor borehole development, inadequate pump design, poor pump selection and installation and, above all, completely inadequate monitoring and maintenance.

Water quality from many of the installations is poor. Sometimes the poor water quality is due solely to contamination caused by corrosion products leached from an incorrectly selected borehole pump and/ or casing material.

International experience has demonstrated that high failure rates are not inevitable and that hand pump installations can be transformed into effective reliable low-cost solutions through the systematic adoption of appropriate design technologies and implementation policies. A key factor in achieving this transformation, as motivated and reported by the World Bank, has been the adoption of the VLOM concept for the provision of these hand pumps. This concept starts with the selection of handpumps specifically designed for Village Level Operation and Maintenance and extends to the whole question of the benefits of community participation, management and ownership, the training I, and employment of community operation and maintenance technicians, and the reduction (but not elimination) of the communities' dependence on external support systems.

The latest information available from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) indicates that there are approximately 18 million people living in South Africa without access to a basic safe water supply, as defined by the RDP minimum level of service (DWAF, 2000), and that at current rates of investment it will take between 25 and 40 years to bring these people up to this minimum adequate level of service (DWAF, 1999). For health reasons alone, there is an urgent need to make an improved water supply to the maximum number of people in the minimum period of time a major national goal. On the basis of requiring the shortest lead time and lowest total monetary investment, the hand pump option is probably the best current choice for an intermediate improved level of service for at least-one third of the 18 million people currently with an inadequate water supply.

It is therefore of vital importance that hand pump manufacturers, suppliers, users, planners and project implementation agencies have access to up-to-date comprehensive information on the strengths and weaknesses of hand pump installations and how the VLOM concept can and should be implemented.


The aims of the research project were therefore to propose a strategy for overcoming these diverse problems in a cost-effective manner in order to improve the effectiveness of hand pump installations in meeting community needs nationwide.

With these aims in mind the work was planned in two phases.

The aim of phase I was to review the situation in South Africa by:

The aim of phase 2 was to formulate a cost -effective strategy for overcoming the key organisational and technical problems highlighted during phase I. This was done by:

The research succeeded in taking account of these objectives and has resulted in this report which comprises the following chapters:


The literature survey was done to highlight the critical constraints impeding effective service delivery and to check how others had solved them. Technical problems reported were more extensive than anticipated. Whilst practical solutions were usually given, the occurrence of these problems does stress the need for careful project implementation and the systematic checking of site-specific criteria as implementation proceeds. The criteria to be checked are set out in five boxes in the final chapter of the report. Soft issues related to community participation and empowerment, skills training, cost recovery, transparency, the setting-up of a proper spares network and the building of capacity in decentralised institutions were also reported in the literature. The need for ongoing monitoring of village-level institutions was not stressed but appears to be essential for long-term effectiveness.

The in-depth analysis of borehole and hand pump installation records was done to determine the extent to which the different critical constraints highlighted from the literature apply in South Africa. The analysis confirmed that they all apply. In addition, there is strong evidence that daily water level drawdown during pumping causes the average depth from which water is pumped in South Africa to be significantly greater than in the rest of the world.

The survey of different stakeholders was done to achieve better problem definition, to learn from the experience of others and to examine conflicting evidence before proposing a plan of action to implement effective community water supply systems using hand pumps. The survey of South African manufacturers established that they make robust products in adequately equipped facilities to comprehensive quality control procedures. However, despite the urgent need as evidenced by all the other sections of this report, none make hand pumps incorporating VLOM concepts or corrosion- resistant materials. This appears to be due to purchasers' buying on price alone and without an adequate specification. The survey of hand pump purchasers revealed that most understand what is required to produce more effective installations. However, in contrast to purchasers from outside South Africa, local purchasers generally had a very negative attitude towards hand pumps, which must lower their motivation to strive for improved installations.

Users made it clear that they appreciated the hand pumps in their villages (when they worked). The alternatives, buying water from vendors, using unsafe water from rivers, relying on springs that dried up every winter and digging in river beds in search of clean water, all gave the users an appreciation of the benefits of village hand pumps. As well as using them for domestic water supplies, the majority of communities use their hand pumps for at least one other purpose: livestock watering 47%, community gardens 33% and building 13%. This indicates the importance of ensuring the effectiveness of hand pump systems until they are upgraded to a higher level of service.

However, this appreciation should not be confused with satisfaction. Varying levels of dissatisfaction and unrealistic demands will still be the norm until users understand the costs associated with other options and see equitable tariffs more closely related to these costs being introduced systematically throughout their region for those who can afford them. In addition many communities fear that making hand pump systems more effective will jeopardise their hopes of obtaining a higher level of service later. All communities want to know that they are being heard with consideration. A synthesis of their comments on what is required to provide an effective service using hand pumps follows.

"Check the quality of the water before deciding if and how the borehole is to be fitted out. Improve the delivery rate of the pumps; this includes ensuring good preventative maintenance. Make the pumps more reliable. Above all shorten the time for repairs. Put in more pumps closer to our homes; this will cut down the walking and queueing times, and will also reduce the number of breakdowns because the pumps will not have to work so hard."


The consolidated findings from the literature survey, the analysis of borehole and hand pump installation records, and the surveys of hand pump stakeholders indicate that three broad areas of project implementation have to be carried out competently to achieve effective community hand pump systems. The three broad areas are:

The three broad areas of hand pump project implementation can be broken down into greater detail as follows:

The borehole

The hand pump

The institutional requirements


The project results clearly highlight what is required for the development of effective community water supply schemes using deep and shallow well hand pumps. Despite the South African focus, the majority of the findings apply universally. The report also gives comprehensive details on how to implement the majority of the micro recommendations. For example, the report explains how to carry out a simple borehole recovery test, how to use the test results to draw a curve indicating the recovery rate at different drawdown depths and, finally, how to use the curve to help with the selection of a suitable hand pump. Having demonstrated clearly that VLOM pumps do play an important role in the implementation of cost-effective sustainable projects, the report goes on to indicate that choosing the correct VLOM pump is still critical.

More countries around the world are paying attention to such technical details and critical socio- economic factors. The results can be seen in the improved percentage of pumps operable at any time. However, in South Africa, in most areas of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Province this is not happening and the situation is critical. In neighbouring Botswana and Lesotho the standard of domestic water supplies is high but hand pump installations seem to have been left out of the thrusts which achieved these impressive standards. Mozambique recently embarked on an ambitious programme of water delivery to rural areas using hand pumps. However, there have been problems, many of which could be solved using the findings of this report.

The strength of the report lies in the manner in which it integrates information from diverse sources and comes to new insights through dealing with the borehole, the hand pump and the community's circumstances as a single entity. Also innovative is the extent to which it encourages a structured analysis of situations before deciding on a definitive course of action. These comments are particularly true in cases where, up to now, community and local government empowerment have been weak and/or water is to be lifted from deep boreholes with low recovery rates. Other aspects covered comprehensively are abrasion and corrosion.


In the course of the study it was established that the majority of technical challenges in relation to requirements for the development of effective community water systems using deep and shallow well hand pumps have been solved.

There are however still two outstanding queries with respect to the suitability of hand pumps fitted with uPVC riser mains to handle pumping heads in excess of about 35 m .The test-rig built and partially commissioned as part of this study would be ideally suited to finding an accurate answer to one of these queries, namely: how effective riser main centralisers are in arresting elastic deformations in such riser pipes, which cause a major reduction in discharge rates at high heads. The second query is: how effective are such centralisers in overcoming the fatigue failures experienced with such riser pipes at high heads? It can reasonably be inferred that if such centralisers reduce the elastic deformations to the extent that they no longer affect the discharge rate they will also overcome the problem of fatigue failures. Thus using the test rig for such testing would provide answers to these questions.

The rig could also be gainfully used for speedily increasing our knowledge of the pumping rates that can be achieved by users of different types and makes of hand pumps at different water levels, and for checking and perfecting the performance characteristics of new pumps.

Lastly uPVC riser pipes are difficult to manage during pump installation and, where necessary , abstraction because of the use of solvent cement site joints. Some research needs to be done to perfect a viable alternative. SKAT of Switzerland, together with Preussag of Germany, and/or Van Reekum Materials of the Netherlands, are ideally suited to carry out this work.

Other information gaps would be best met through the activities described below.


The report ends with recommendations on how to transfer the results of the study into best practice in the field. This requires two basic activities:

There are still information gaps. Most of these relate to the need to supplement qualitative findings contained in this study with more detailed quantitative information. The proper implementation of the proposed demonstration projects, together with the encouragement this will give for accurate borehole installation monitoring throughout South Africa, would fill these gaps and over time dramatically improve the effectiveness of community water supply systems using hand pumps on deep and shallow wells.