Every 2 years a mass of water engineers and NGOs types get together to discuss the latest technologies or approaches aimed addressing water poverty, at The Loughborough University WEDC (Water Engineering and Development Centre).
Pump Aid, an NGO working in Malawi, has presented a paper to the WEDC conference which aims to spark a debate around what it feels is a widespread complacency in maintaining an approach to access to water in southern Africa that is highly inefficient and is costing lives.
According to formal statistics (UNICEF/WHO), access to improved water in Malawi stands at 92%. This figure is quoted by many influential actors in the sector as evidence that foreign aid works and we should remain maintain our .7% commitment. Whilst Pump Aid supports the latter view, its direct experience and the evidence it has collected, shows that in actual fact less than 60% of the population of Malawi has access to reliable improved water because of pump non-functionality and as a result are exposed to unsafe drinking water. This situation is similar in many other southern African countries. Unsafe water leads to poor health. In Malawi, 24% of under-5’s suffer repeat bouts of diarrhoea, which is a leading cause of childhood death.
The problem is that the UN’s definition of access to improved water is ‘someone living within 500m of a pump’. Whether this pump is actually working or not is inconsequential. In Malawi, the local DFID office has estimated that 40% of all water points are non-functional at any one time.
Community water pumps breakdown for many technical reasons. But a primary reason why they don’t get fixed is a culture of dependency that’s been cultivated in the main by donors and International NGOs. They come in, install a pump and leave. Issues of repair and maintenance are pushed to the background.
In addition, over one third of Malawi’s population was classified as food insecure last year. 6.7 million people. Over 85% of its population are reliant on small scale agriculture for their livelihoods, yet on 11% of all small scale farmers use any form of irrigation. Centralised irrigation schemes have been largely unsuccessful and donors / INGOs have resorted to handing out inappropriate irrigation technologies which are whether not used (because they cent be) or break down with no repair facility available.
What’s the answer?
In an effort to confront these ‘challenges’ and this dependency inducing approach to aid, in 2014 Pump Aid began to develop a small scale business programme to support entrepreneurs, working in poor rural communities, selling water and sanitation products and services to set out to try and find a better way of combatting water poverty. These entrepreneurs focused on 3 markets:
1. Community water pumps – improving functionality from 55% to 98% through repairs and service contracts
2. Selling affordable pumps to households – making water more convenient and thus increasing its use (for hygienic purposes)
3. Selling affordable irrigation pumps to small scale farmers – marketing irrigation pumps by showing farmers how much more they can produce with irrigation.
In less than 12 months this group of 25 entrepreneurs brought safe reliable water to over 22,000 people.
All of the entrepreneurs trained and supported by Pump Aid at least doubled their incomes and all have financially profitable (sustainable) businesses.
We have shown that so called poor rural communities in Africa both demand better products and services and have the ability to pay for them. It’s the very antithesis of the aid dependency inducing approach that’s been all too prevalent over the last 2 decades.
What’s more, its sustainable because ownership increases functionality and it at least half the cost per capita of traditional water point schemes. Its lasts longer and its better value for money.
Unlike others in the sector we don’t believe that more of the same is the answer to water poverty. More of the same just perpetuates a culture of dependency where the winners are the vested interests involved in supplying pumps and then leaving to move onto the next externally funded contract and the losers are the communities the public thinks there money is going to support.
If you want to know more about our small business approach to ending water poverty click here.
Or to download the full WEDC report, click here.
If you would like to speak to someone about Pump Aid’s new approach, please call +44 (0)845 504 6972