Infant (pump) Mortality in South Sudan

Posted on 30/04/2015 by Ryan Schweitzer

A few months ago I was on a trip to South Sudan. Excited to be working in the newest country in the world, and after a week of meetings and a three day workshop I decided to take a stroll around the small dusty town where I was temporarily residing. About two hundred meters from the gate to the compound is a school, built by a programme funded by a large bilateral aid organization, which will remain nameless. The school has three buildings with a total of 6 classrooms and space enough to teach all the children in this small town. Yet all the classrooms sit empty and the metal doors have been chiselled out of the cement block. Looted? Removed for refitting? For scrap metal?  Who knows?

As I wander through the crushed empty vegetable oil cans donated by the same aid organization that funded the construction of the abandoned school, I wonder what happened to this school in the time since the project was completed and handed over the local government (a little over 22 months according to the sign at the gate).

In another hundred yards I encounter an abandoned borehole with an India Mark II mounted on it. By the look of it the pump isn’t that old, however the serial number doesn’t reveal sufficient information to determine its age. I wander another 300 meters and see two kids banging away on a different handpump, also India Mark II, which I later learn, is the only functional handpump in the immediate area.

My 2 hour stroll takes me down the main drag and past another half dozen handpumps, only 4 of which are functioning. When I see a strange trapezoidal building I deviate from the main road. Just to the south east of the building there is another handpump. The tank and handle are listing slightly backwards and as I approach it seems like the handpump has nearly been cracked in two. A quick inspection shows that none of the headworks are missing and the damage to the flange suggests the bolts were over tightened, damaging the flange and possibly leading to the failure which caused the pump to flip over.

However none of this is surprising. Low handpump functionality is nothing new in sub-Saharan Africa. Estimates from various sources often cite non-functionality rates of 30%, and in some cases rates as high as 60% have been found. In South Sudan a study published in 2014 showed that of 578 boreholes built between 2006 and 2012, over one fifth were not fully functional. This depressing statistic is all too familiar to many who work in the WASH sector. However, what IS particularly disturbing about this particular handpump is that it is a new born. With a life expectancy under optimal conditions of 10-15 years, this handpump’s life was cut short at the tender age of (at most) 290 days. Although by the look of the debris built up on the apron it looks like its life was even shorter. On April 30th of this year the handpump would have turned 1 year old.

 It was nice that someone took the time to scribble the date of installation into the concrete apron surrounding the base. It would have been even better if a proper inspection was done of all the pump parts prior to installation. However, maybe I am wrong. I understand that none of the India Mark II pumps are manufactured in South Sudan. Indeed it would be understandable if the youngest country in the world had difficulties in quality assurance in manufacturing. The development of such regulations takes time and the enforcement is even more difficult. However, I was told by someone working in the sector that all the India Mark II pumps are imported.  

It is possible that the international distributor is responsible for the current state. However, just as likely is the explanation that the problem arose during installation or perhaps sometime during regular maintenance. It is even possible that an over-zealous land rover driver backed into it. Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear---it is a sad day when such a large sum of money is invested into a piece of infrastructure that could provide water to 300 people (or 500 if you go by the government of South Sudan's standards), and it does not even last a year.

Happy birthday kiddo.

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