So what causes wells to break? Well, that is a little like asking why computers crash or why cars breakdown. There are many reasons why wells break, and the first one is that this is a piece of machinery (a hand pump) that is often being used for 10 or more hours every day without any breaks. Wells in villages, and particularly in schools, are also often being used by smaller children who lack the strength to be able to work them with their arms, so they tend to lean their whole body weight on the pump handle and rock up and down like a teeter totter. This puts a lot of strain on the pump and can cause it to break over time. This problem has an easy solution, by building a wooden frame around the pump handle that regulates how far the pump can go up or down, it reduces the pressure on the pump and keeps it working longer.
Another reason pumps break is because the water users are either not taking proper care of the well, or simply don’t know how to maintain it. Again this problem has a very simple solution. The first thing is to form a water users group or water committee. Now, lots of organizations say they do this, but it often cannot be done in just one or two visits and you have to work with the community and move at a pace that works for them. Drop in the Bucket understands the importance of training pump-mechanics as sustainable projects need to be able to work without us constantly being called to deal with minor breakdowns. Teaching community beneficiaries basic hand pump preventative maintenance is the first step, but its importance cannot be overstated.
The next thing is community participation in the project’s construction. Of course it is easier and faster to have our trained workers take care of everything from start to finish, but without community participation the community stakeholders will always see the well as ours rather than theirs, so any breakdowns will therefore become our responsibility rather than theirs, and that is simply not sustainable in the long-term.
The fourth issue is the availability of spare parts. For this reason we tend to favor India Mk ii hand pumps because they are sturdy, the design is relatively simple, it is easy to train people in how to take care of them and the parts are readily available all over East Africa.
The next, and most important factor is money. A $20 or $40 part could very well be the thing that differentiates between a working well and a broken well, but if the community doesn’t have $20 or $40 it may as well be $5,000. So how do we make sure the community always has the money to cover preventative maintenance, pump mechanics, spare parts and any other issues? The answer for us was by setting up micro-finance projects called VSLAs. The VSLA or village savings and loan association program is a structured system of lending and borrowing money that creates village level businesses and provides the funds needed to cover repairs as they come up. It has become a cornerstone of our sustainability program and has been one of the most successful and exciting parts of our program. Here is an example of a working VSLA from our blog.