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Published on: 10/10/2014

In rural Africa, access to water is making headway with the installation of "improved" water sources (hand pumps, protected wells etc.). Financially, development aid and Government resources are used to cover investment costs (feasibility study and construction) and equipment upkeep is covered by the users.

In Burkina Faso, villagers have to contribute 75,000 FCFA per year for each hand pump so that a mechanic can carry out preventive maintenance and any necessary repairs. Each mechanic can be responsible for a maximum of 100 hand pumps all within the same district, although this number is usually between 40 and 60.

This blog questions the scale and the conditions under which improved water sources are managed and, more specifically, maintained. Indeed it would appear possible to improve the quality of service from hand pumps at a set tariff, in this case the reasonable tariff of 250 FCFA or $US 0.50 per person per year in Burkina Faso.

Under the current system there is no supply chain for quality-guaranteed spare parts. If a pump breaks down, the mechanics or village user associations buy spare parts on the market where no process of certification of origin or quality control guarantees where the spare part comes from or its quality. And yet this is key to improving the service provided by hand pumps.

More than 50% of repaired hand pumps break down again, some up to six times within 6 months.

According to data collected in the Sahel Region, a hand pump has more than a 50 percent chance of breaking down in six months.

While mechanics generally manage to repair them within the set, three-day time limit, in more than half the cases the breakdown recurs. More than 50% of repaired hand pumps break down again, some up to six times. This sharply increases the amount of time a hand pump is unavailable and diminishes users' confidence in the mechanics' ability to do their job. The main reason given by the mechanics to explain this high failure rate is the accessibility and quality of spare parts.

Hand pump breakdowns between October 2013 and April 2014 in Arbinda and Gorgadji


No of community hand pumps

No of hand pumps that broke down

No of breakdowns

No of hand pumps that broke down once

No of hand pumps that broke down twice

No. of hand pumps that broke down 3 to 7 times















 IRC asked a network operator if an alternative to the current system could be envisaged at the same tariff. The answer was in the affirmative: for 75,000 FCFA per hand pump per year they could provide a full guarantee, that is to say they could entirely cover hand pump preventive maintenance and repair.

Their services would include two preventive maintenance interventions per year, breakdowns would be repaired within 24 hours (as against the current 72) and, above all, a system to supply quality-guaranteed spare parts would be set up and managed.

On the basis of these indicators (number of preventive maintenance interventions, repair time limits, supply of certified spare parts) the operator's proposal would increase hand pump availability and hence service quality. The only condition lies in the size of the contract: the operator would require the market to include at least 256 hand pumps located in the surrounding districts (Gorgadji and Arbinda)

Detailed service of full guarantee proposed by the operator, $US / year

Replacement of hand pump spare parts with full guarantee


Contribution to payment of district technician and costs of the District Water and Sanitation Committee



Initial contribution for hand pump rehabilitation


Initial contribution for a new borehole


Margin on variable costs


Total incompressible costs of the operator (including artisans)


Minimum number of hand pumps to achieve profitability


 The maintenance of the 35,000 operational hand pumps in Burkina Faso represents a market of around 2.625 billion FCFA per year ($US 5.25 million).

This is a large enough market for specialised firms to emerge or develop their services thus helping to improve the level of service and the sustainability of installations. It is simply a matter of changing the scale and, when there are not enough hand pumps in a given district, of exploring the possibility of inter-communality.

IRC supports the strengthening and improvement of the management of public drinking water in the Triple-S project, a component of the program for drinking water and sanitation USAID, WA-WASH.


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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