The Elephant Pump is a modified rope and washer pump, which is a low cost, easily maintained, sustainable technology well suited to poor rural communities. The rope and washer pump is usually installed in shallow wells with a typical depth of around 10 metres (depending on the level of the water table). It has an enclosed concrete housing and uses simple parts which can be locally sourced and maintained. Elephant pumps are uniquely suited to the challenging rural geographies we serve and give people a lifeline to disease-free drinking water.
To ensure sustainable change in the long term, we encourage communities to improve their hygiene and sanitation practices and train them in pump maintenance and repair. Well before installation, we partner with communities to assess their needs, encouraging the formation of female-inclusive Water Point Committees to manage the pumps. We also coordinate with local health and other authorities to ensure that pumps are situated for maximum benefit to users. We help the community to improve hygiene practices, including the setting up of hand-washing stations, the use of effective toilets, ending open defecation practices and setting up links with sanitation product providers.
What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?
The pump is an extremely sustainable technology with pumps still working today that were built 17 years ago (when this design was first launched). The comparative advantage of the rope and washer pump, compared to other community hand pumps, is that it is very affordable and very simple to maintain and repair. This is why rope and washer pumps achieve functionality rates of 80/85% as compared to the 55/60% commonly achieved by boreholes or gravity fed systems.
A recent survey carried out by Pump Aid has shown that all pumps built since 2013 have a 100% functionality rate.
Do you have current users or testers?
We have worked in Zimbabwe and Liberia and are now focussing on our flagship programme in Malawi, where we improve the lives of its poorest communities through the installation of water pumps. We provide hygiene training, sanitation programmes in schools, and what is an emerging strand of work, encouraging the development of entrepreneurship in local water and sanitation infrastructure. Our outcomes-based, whole-community approach means we are able to meet an urgent need in a way that is sustainable for future generations.
Approximately three out of four Malawians live on less than 85p a day and the country is ranked 174 out of 186 in the UN Human Development Index. Over 2 million Malawians live without access to clean water and often have to travel long distances to visit contaminated open wells, inevitably reducing the time available for income-generating activities and education. This burden falls most heavily upon women and girls. Water-borne illness is considered a normal part of life, and according to a 2011 report on disease in Malawi, diarrhoea is the third leading cause of death among adults. It causes 18% of deaths in children, one in ten of whom will not live to see their fifth birthday. There are 17 diarrhoea-related deaths of children under five every day.
We work mostly with communities of 120-150 people that are too small or too remote to be good candidates for more costly and complex water technologies provided by larger NGOs, such as borehole wells. Drilling rigs can’t access these locations and deep source pumps are too expensive for communities to maintain. Until everyone has access to piped water, the elephant pump is the most sustainable solution for the remote, underserved communities where we work.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
Our innovation is not for sale, it is provided by Pump Aid to communities in need via donors. However we are currently carrying out a 'Self Supply' project in Malawi which aims to fill the gap in safe water and sanitation supply by training and supporting 20 small businesses in Kasungu District, equipping them with the necessary skills and tools to set up viable businesses around pump/sanitation installation, maintenance and supply (stocking spare parts) and stimulating demand for their services through marketing, which focuses on the aspirational as well as health benefits.
There are large numbers of artisans and small businesses (well diggers and mechanics etc) who operate at village level. They have the basic skills and attitude to develop and grow businesses with the right level of training, support and market stimulation for WASH services. Unfortunately this has not previously been available with a focus on providing services for individual consumers. The dominant model of water point management is community based management & services are intermittent.
The project finances a package of support to train and mentor small businesses. The small businesses benefit from a tailored range of interventions which train in key construction, business, marketing and sales skills. Small businesses will continue to receive support in the form of mentoring as they progress. There is no form of financial subsidy for the businesses and so the incentive for small businesses is the profitability and not NGO subsidy. Businesses are trained to price their products and services to ensure profitability, but also to understand market segregation thus to price products and services appropriate to their market conditions. Our model is based on the concept of social enterprise investment for business support, wherein we do not seek to impose a single product or service modality, but rather we seek to support small scale market makers from both supply and demand sides to supply services specific to the demands of their markets.
It is particularly important for self-supply adopters to identify suitable technologies for communities in Malawi. Any technology must be affordable initially as well as being reliable, easy to repair and cheap to acquire spare parts for. The elephant pump used by Pump Aid meets these criteria.
Pump Aid has currently built over 9,000 pumps in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Liberia. Ideally we want to expand to other countries which are similar to Malawi and are actively looking to work in neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania who share similar characteristics to Malawi.