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Case study 1: The sustainability of hand pumps in Tanzania

How sustainable are water point projects in Tanzania?
PE2 handpump in Tanzania
© Laurence Gill

Many NGOs are working with local communities to improve their access to safe, clean water. Programmes that install water points, such as hand pumps, protected springs, and rainwater harvesting, can reduce disease and improve quality of life for many communities. However, how sustainable are these projects in the long term, and what challenges do they face? Here we will examine one of the projects Laurence has worked on: the WASH project with Irish NGO Concern Worldwide in Kagera, Tanzania.

The WASH Project in Kagera, Tanzania

Concern Worldwide is an Irish NGO that worked with local partners in Tanzania to build 775 water points over the last 10 years. These water points included:

  • Shallow hand-dug wells
  • Protected springs
  • Gravity distribution schemes
  • Solar pumping schemes

How these water point projects were set up took a great deal of collaboration between the NGO, the local partner, and the community that would be using the water point. This is known as a participatory approach.

For example, before any water point was developed, the local partner carried out a community sensitisation. This helped the community to be ready to work with the programme, and a local Water Point Committee was set up. Each committee was set up with eight people, with four females and four males. The roles are as follows: Chairperson, Secretary, Cashier, Pump caretaker, Health Member, Health Member, Member, Member.

The Chairperson, Secretary, Cashier and two members then receive a three-day training session on management and finance. In parallel to this the two health members receive separate hygiene and health training while the pump caretaker gets a separate two-day training session – one day on theory followed by a one-day practical where a pump is dismantled and reassembled.

In parallel to this the community has to agree to share some of the costs associated with the infrastructure and as such they provide labour to dig the well. The casting of the concrete well rings and slab is carried out by the partners and these are then transported to the village. Concern purchases the pumps centrally from Dar Es Salaam and then transports them to site. Concern and partner then install the pump and finish off the protective apron. The local community are then finally responsible for constructing the fence.

So, how well did this project work? How was its sustainability measured?

Laurence travelled to Tanzania to assess the sustainability of these water points with Concern. Given that many of the water points had been in use for a long period of time, it was important to find out how sustainable the project actually was. Given the time available for the post-evaluation, it was decided to focus on the shallow hand-dug wells (of which 480 have been installed or rehabilitated). Hence, a representative sample of 17 wells was randomly chosen for the field assessment according to the District and age distribution since installation / rehabilitation (<2 years, 2-5 years and >5 years).

Three main criteria were used to assess the sustainability of the water points:

  • Water point infrastructure

At each water point, the infrastructure was assessed by measuring the pump yield, integrity of the apron, protection of the well from surface runoff and animals, and closeness to potential polluting activities such as agriculture, houses etc.

  • Water point (WP) committee and users

Each WP committee were asked questions about the management and structure of the committee, financing, maintenance and repairs, and other factors, such as the population served by the water point, maximum distance travelled etc.

A separate questionnaire was also carried out with some of the WP users covering the quantity of water collected per day, perceived quality of the water, frequency of pump breakdowns, typical queuing times, and alternative sources.

  • Other backstopping support

Meetings were arranged with the Local Government District Water Engineers in Ngara and Biharamulo. Some interviews were also held with hardware shop suppliers in the districts in order to assess whether pump spare parts could be sourced locally.

What were the findings?

The post-evaluation showed that, while a lot of effort had been made to choose a robust pump technology for the programme (which seemed to have been validated given that only one pump was not functioning), there were issues with the siting of several of the WPs which, although still functioning, were not used by the population due to concerns about water taste and colour.

Many users also reported significant problems with reduced yields in the dry season: users at six additional water points also complained that the yield from the wells reduced significantly during the dry season leading to long queues as people had to wait for the well to recharge. In these cases the local population preferred to use nearby traditional unprotected sources (see photo).

This highlights the importance of considering a service delivery approach with respect to WP sustainability and also the need to develop WASH programmes at the proposal stage with some flexibility to allow the best technology to be chosen depending on local site conditions i.e. not be pinned down to an exact number of WPs of a specific technology.

Photo of hand pump without water in dry season (left) and traditional water resource used instead (right Photo of hand pump without water in dry season (left) and traditional water resource used instead (right). © Laurence Gill

The water point committees do appear to be performing a crucial function in relation to the sustainability of the water points and the members on the committee seemed to be content with the voluntary nature of their roles.

There was a clear correlation between the sustainability indices of the water points and size of population served; the more in demand the water point the more likely it is to be maintained and valued by the community,

The importance of ownership with regards water point sustainability has also been suggested through the fact that each time a repair was needed, and despite the failure of the cost-recovery scheme put in place, WASH committees were able to collect enough money to perform the needed repairs. However, most committees did not really know where spare parts could be sourced from locally.

From a longer term perspective, the lack of specific activities and budget in the programme targeted towards analysis and development of the supply chain and maintenance capacity, and the weakness of some of the local back stopping agencies can cause a threat to the long-term sustainability.

In summary, this case study illustrates the multi-faceted challenges faced by communities to ensure sustainability – the importance of a participatory approach but also thinking of the longer term operational issues, such as the supply chain for spare parts, when embarking on such a programme.

Thinking about this case study:

  • In hindsight, how could a more effective supply chain for spare parts have been promoted in this region, given the number of water points being installed?
© Trinity College Dublin
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