Handpump Failure in South Sudan- Doing the Math

Posted on 30/04/2015 by Ryan Schweitzer

In some parts of South Sudan the going rate for drilling a borehole and fitting it with an India Mark II can range between $13,000 and $15,000. On a recent trip there I encountered a failed handpump with the date scribed into the wet concrete apron when it was being finished.  Being generous in the number of days the pumps was in use, the cost per day of the pump was somewhere between $41 and $52. If we calculate the cost per cubic meter of water produced, using the manufacturing design specifications for the estimated water depth (30 meters) the average pumping rate is about 0.8 cubic meters/hour.  So, once again being generous, and saying that while it functioned it was in continuous use for 10 hours per day.  So the price of the water produced would be between $5.1 to $6.5 per cubic meter! When you compare this cost to that which I pay for water back home (about $2-3 per cubic meter) it is pretty amazing. Especially considering that I have a seemingly endless supply of treated water available on-demand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. While the people who used this pump during its short life-span likely had a walk hundreds of meters, wait in line, pump their untreated water, and then haul it back to their homes--usually 20 liters at a time.  

Clearly it isn’t appropriate to compare the costs, since the handpump installation costs are the initial investment or capital costs and what I pay in my monthly bill is meant to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the water treatment and distribution systems (and possibly some amount for eventual rehabilitation and replacement). However, the point is, if our plan for development proceeds with outcomes like this, then the organizations involved might be better off saving their time, energy and financial resources for other interventions.

Often NGOs give a few day training course to a few members on how to fix the small issues which come up during the lifespan of a pumps.  They usually give them tools and maybe even form a water committee and suggest that they collect money to cover the costs of the parts which are needed.  

However, NGOs need to not only work with communities to train them in the management, operation and maintenance of their systems, but they also need to work with the local government to ensure that the government has the capacity (e.g. human and financial resources, knowledge, functioning monitoring systems) to support communities. This includes understanding the maintenance requirements and long term costs to ensure that the infrastructure reaches its design life.  The NGO also needs to work with the government and the private sector to ensure that spare parts are available to community when the pump does break down.  Ensuring the sustainability of the services related to the handpump means addressing more than just the technical issues within the community where the handpump is.  

VNG International is well aware of the challenges faced by communities and local governments and is currently working on a Local Government Capacity Building Programme.  This programme is designed to help the state and local governments have increased understanding of alternative cost recovery mechanisms to ensure the financial sustainability of WASH services. By working with the state and local governments VNG is ensuring that there will be a permanent presence in the country to assist communities in dealing with the technical, financial, social challenges that they will encounter in the management of their water supply systems.