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A visit with the Rope Pump Project team in Ethiopia

Published on: 28/08/2013

The WAS-RoPSS project, or the 'rope pump project' is working towards the development of guidelines for the standardisation of rope pump manufacturing.

'If you want to scale up Self-supply, you need a range of technological options, and you should not forget the five Cs for marketing'. So said Henk Holtslag, a regular visitor to Ethiopia, as he tirelessly travels around the world passionately promoting low-cost technologies for water supply.

We met him working with a team from the Project for Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Livelihood Improvement through Dissemination of rope pumps (RPs) for drinking water (WAS-RoPSS), in other words, the ‘rope pump project’, which is run by the Ministry of Water and Energy and supported by JICA. This effort is a natural partner for IRC's work to promote the acceleration of Self-supply in Ethiopia, as rope pumps are one of the affordable technologies for household level use.

When I first heard about 'standardisation' I got confused, as I thought it was about working towards one single type of rope pump (bye bye market).

As my work at IRC tends to sometimes be very policy focused, I enjoyed the exposure to the very practical, hands-on explanation and demonstration by Girma Senbeta (project coordinator) and Henk Holtslag (advisor to the project). They invited us to the Ethiopian Water Technology Training Center (EWTEC), to watch how they are working towards the development of  guidelines for the standardisation of rope pump manufacturing: basically by taking apart all the different available rope pump models in Ethiopia, and picking out the strong points of each.

When I first heard about ‘standardisation’ I got confused, as I thought it was about working towards one single type of rope pump (bye bye market). But soon I realised that it was about standardisation in the sense of ‘coming up with a minimum set of requirements’ to guarantee the quality and sustainability of the pump. This leaves it to the manufacturers to develop different models with various pros and cons, but with a minimum level of quality and leaving the ultimate choice to users. They decide on which model to buy against which price.

The standardisation guidelines will include recommendations on material, type and size on the following aspects of the rope pump:

  • The handle
  • PVC riser pipe size
  • Bushing
  • Wheel
  • Well head (cover, apron, soak pit)
  • Rope type
  • Piston size

Standards will be proposed for four different rope pump models:

  • Model 1: Incl. pump, cover, seal, with bushing instead of ball bearings
  • Model 2: High quality model with ball bearings -  especially useful for communities
  • Model 3: Economy model providing basic services but without wheel cover, and no nut
  • Model 4: Windlass model with wooden pole pump structure

It was mentioned that there are also discussions and plans to take the standardisation guidelines a step further: towards certification of the rope pumps produced. As I was in Ethiopia, to work on a communications strategy for Self-supply acceleration, I started to wonder what this certification would mean in terms of communications or ‘influencing’ of all the stakeholders involved.

  • For the rope pump manufacturer certification could mean an increase in their sales. As they would now sell a trusted product.
  • For the technical staff (mechanics/ masons) involved in installing the pumps and doing major maintenance, they could become certified installers and increase their business, only working with the best of the best - just like that I tend to bring my Peugeot to the Peugeot workshop for maintenance - and not the regular car mechanic, they would only work with certified rope pumps.
  • For the households it would give them some confidence that they have a good quality product that will last.
  • For the micro-credit institutes it would give them the confidence that they have given a loan for a good quality product. Value for money.

To get these benefits, certification would require an agency handing out the certificates; doing regular quality checks; taking measures when the product is not meeting the standard. A question arose about the level and timing of certification. Do you certify a whole range of rope pumps or is the certfication seal only given after proper installation?

This whole extra layer to achieve certification will not come for free. Which brings me back to the tip of Henk Holtslag ‘If you want to scale up self-supply, you need a range of technological options, and you should not forget the five Cs for marketing’. When I asked him what he meant with the five Cs (isn’t it the five Ps? Product, price, promotion, place, people), he looked at me and said 'it’s about the Costs, the Costs, the Costs, the Costs and the Costs.'

I wonder what the experiences are with standardisation of rope pumps in other countries: how did it help in accelerating Self-supply, and what have been the benefits of certification? High time for a lunch meeting with my colleagues from WASHTech and another discussion with Henk.

Models 1 - 4



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