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Reducing breakdowns of hand pumps in Burkina Faso is mainly… a technical issue

Published on: 01/04/2015

IRC Burkina Faso investigated the factors that explain why boreholes with hand pumps in the Sahel region break down so often.

This study is part of USAID's WA-WASH programme.

Boreholes with hand pumps (also known as improved water sources) are the main source of drinking water in rural areas of Burkina Faso. In one municipality in which IRC Burkina Faso is actively involved, Gorgadji, there are 123 boreholes with handpumps, of which 88% were working in March 2014. In another, Aribinda, there are 208 such boreholes, of which 89% were working. 8% of the equipment over these two municipalities is more than 30 years old and needs to be replaced. It is calculated that 44% of people have access to such water sources in Gorgadji and 41% in Aribinda (on the basis of 300 people for each borehole with hand pump). Like any infrastructure, these boreholes with hand pumps need regular maintenance.

Maintenance and all aspects of public drinking water provision, is the responsibility of the municipality. In the Sahel region, where a Reform on management of public water provision is piloted since2008, municipalities contract the maintenance of boreholes with hand pumps and the collection of contributions from households to Water Users' Associations (one for each village) and hire local mechanics to carry out preventative and corrective maintenance work. Before a local maintenance cycle was put in place (with IRC support), time to repair was on average 7 days over the two municipalities, with some breakdowns lasting several months. Since this cycle has been in operation, breakdown time has been reduced to 3.5 days.

Suggested bottlenecks

Despite this progress, some boreholes with manual pumps cannot be adequately repaired. Local authorities and sector stakeholders give three reasons for this:

  1. Limited access to new spare parts;
  2. Lack of qualified maintenance skills;
  3. Water Users' Associations lack the resources to meet repair costs.

In order to reduce repair times and, ultimately, in order to offer these populations uninterrupted water services, IRC Burkina Faso investigated these assumptions. Our analysis was based on data collected by IRC Burkina Faso between 2012 and 2014. We looked at the types and frequency of breakdowns, repair times, and costs associated with the running of boreholes with hand pumps.

Main observations

Despite an overall reduction in breakdown length, our analysis showed a direct correlation between the number of breakdowns and repair costs. The higher the number of breakdowns, the higher the repair cost. There are two factors behind this:

  1. The difficulty of obtaining new spare parts, which results in widespread use of second-hand parts, which causes further breakdowns;
  2. Limited knowledge among maintenance personnel, who do what they can with the available materials.

We also showed that Water Users' Associations (and households') ability to pay is not in itself a limiting factor. Between September 2013 and March 2014, the equivalent of around US$ 1,500 was available to the local authority in Gorgadji and US$ 25,000 in Aribinda. These resources were not mobilised or allocated in an optimal way. Using such sums, Aribinda would have been able to restore 8 boreholes with hand pumps (at an average cost of US$ 3,000) and Gorgadji would have been able to maintain 30 boreholes with hand pumps properly (at an average cost of US$ 50). In other words, on the basis of contributions collected from households and gathered by Water Users' Associations, both local authorities can afford to have repairs done more professionally, in order to limit the number of breakdowns. However, if the resources of each Water Users' Associations are to be used effectively, this implies that they should be held in common, in order to achieve equalisation. On what level should they be held in common? How can we overcome the deficiencies in the spare part supply chain? How can we ensure that local mechanics are better able to repair boreholes with hand pumps?

To answer these questions, we explored ways of professionalising the maintenance of boreholes with hand pumps, and this is discussed in another blog post.

Disclaimer

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