Changing the way we change the world

Why water systems fail part 15: inappropriate technology

By Susan Davis, Executive Director

What leads to success or failure of water systems?  Everything we read points to a complex mix of factors.  In this series, we share quotes on various topics related to failure of water systems from our literature search and interviews for the report on resolution of problems with water systems as a way to highlight pieces of the puzzle.

This blog focuses on inappropriate technology choices as a cause of water point failure. This is due in part to a lack of technology standards in some developing countries, or by implementing organizations not following the standards. Technology might be too difficult to repair (perhaps because of the lack of tools or spare parts), not durable enough for the environment, or of poor quality.

Despite agreement among [30 water and sanitation development professionals] that the issues are social and institutional rather than technical, poor technology choice was the most commonly mentioned reason for failed projects. (Barnes, Ashbolt, Roser, & Brown, 2014)

The Afridev hand pump is widely used in the country because it is light-weight and easy to repair and thus suitable for women to participate in operation and maintenance at village level. The major reasons for high non-functionality of Afridev pumps reported in the Water Point Atlas are due to different types of Afridev hand pump (i.e. different rods and different U-seal) and users’ unwillingness to contribute significantly toward maintaining the facilities. The different types of Afridev pump components at different costs continue to make repair a difficult task particularly in remote communities. (Government of the Republic of Liberia, 2014)

For the sake of finding a simple and effective village level operation and maintenance hand pump type, the Elephant pump and Rope pump have been introduced on the market by Pump Aid and Manneka in 2011 and 2013. They are being tested in isolation. There is no mechanism in place to enable the government to undertake quality control or consider whether this is the most appropriate pump technology option for the Country. An independent sector quality check is required on these two new pumps. (Government of the Republic of Liberia, 2014)

The results [from expert interviews] appear contradictory on this point. ..half the informants commented that the [sustainability] problem is not, primarily, a technical one….On the other hand, inappropriate technology was the leading cause of both the specific failed projects and project failure generally. It seems that, despite all that is known, technology choice is still being performed poorly by development agencies and governments. … While it may not be the hardware itself that is the problem, and the issue may not be a technical one, the technology is still not being chosen to fit the socio-cultural, environmental or economic platform on which it is placed. (Barnes, Ashbolt, Roser, & Brown, 2014)

162 respondents to an RWSN survey said it is challenging to demonstrate better quality/ sustainability/ life time costs compared to other products or manufacturers. Only 38% of respondents have used the RWSN handpump standards. (Furey, 2013)

One of the disadvantages of rainwater harvesting, and it has not been overcome, is the cost of it. This costs a school between $2500 and $3500 to build one of these systems, and that’s a lot of money for them over there. (US-based interviewee, 2013)

India Mark II handpumps performed better than Afridev handpumps in Liberia, but the converse was true in Sierra Leone. Those handpump types that were small in number performed poorest. (Foster, 2013)

Even when the World Bank ‘advocated’ for simple and affordable technologies, such as hand pumps, these were rejected by some communities….[For example, two] communities refused to accept the programme when they were told that hand pumps would be installed: they wanted a motorised scheme…[T]he absence of community participation in technology selection leads to a lack of community acceptance of schemes and underutilisation (Brikké, 2002) which also impacts significantly on the sustainability of schemes. (Deneke & Abebe, 2008)

[T]echnology choice is often donor driven, e.g. UNICEF, JICA or AfDB funds mainly boreholes. Other NGOs state, “We build shallow wells because the donor is interested in shallow wells”. There appear to be many cases where lower cost technologies such as improving existing shallow wells (through deepening, covering, installation of handpump), encouraging the construction of household shallow wells or protecting springs are overlooked. This is a missed opportunity, both in terms of achieving the MDGs and of sustainability. These technologies may be more affordable and easier to manage for rural Malawians. As the example of Zimbabwe shows, shallow wells can be an important supplementary technology in rural water supply and the choice should not be “either-or”. (Baumann & Danert, 2008)

One District Water Officer commented that he would find it difficult to prevent a donor or NGO introducing their own handpump model, even if this was imported, totally new to the area and there was no long-term strategy for spare parts supply, since he considered any implementation better than none at all. If this attitude is widespread there is a danger that the maintenance problems of the past…may be repeated, unless there is clear Government policy regarding technology. (Harvey, Ikumi, & Mutethia, 2003)

There is no handpump standardisation policy in Kenya and it appears that the Government has taken a very ‘hands off’ approach to rural water supply in general. As a result, most rural water supply projects have been very much donor-driven and implementing agencies have often imposed their own technologies on different areas and different communities within the country. The NPWRMD states that Government will make efforts to ‘vet technologies being introduced in the water sector in a manner that will not obstruct the introduction of technological breakthroughs’, and that the ‘use of traditional technologies will be encouraged with modifications, if necessary’ (MWR, 1999). Lessons from the recent past would indicate that little or no vetting of new technologies has been undertaken. (Harvey, Ikumi, & Mutethia, 2003)

Most NGOs and bilateral agencies in Kenya are exempted from 5% import duty and 18% Value-Added Tax (VAT) by agreement with central Government. In addition to this, all handpumps imported into the country are exempt from VAT, and importers need only pay the 5% import duty. Spare parts and raw materials, however, attract the full levels of VAT and duty. As a result, at least in part, importing large consignments of Afridev handpumps from India proves much cheaper than manufacturing the same pumps in country even though there is capacity to do this. There is no Government policy to encourage or protect the local manufacture of handpumps. (Harvey, Ikumi, & Mutethia, 2003)

[In Mozambique], the government’s new water policy stresses that communities should be allowed to choose what water systems they want based on what they can sustain. The reality is that this policy is not being applied in Niassa by a range of donors and construction companies. As a result, AfriDev handpumps are continually being installed in villages that could never sustain an AfriDev handpump. These will eventually break down. (WaterAid Mozambique, 2004) Importantly, all communities involved to date in this project with PDAN have decided that the handpumps installed are not viable at community level. All have asked that the handpumps be removed (if they had not already been stolen) and replaced with a protected well with bucket and windlass. (WaterAid Mozambique, 2004, Revisiting Broken Projects Programme, Niassa Province, 2000 – 2004)

Implementing organizations can use tools such as the Technology Applicability Framework (TAF) with water users and other stakeholders to support decisions on the applicability, scalability and sustainability of a specific WASH technology to provide lasting services in a specific context and on the readiness for its introduction.

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