Kevin and Spencer

Saturday, May 21, 2011

(Kevin) Play Pumps in Machinga

If anyone has followed EWB blogs before (especially Owen Scott's blog), you know that Play Pumps are a hot topic in Malawi. Play pumps essentially fuse together the enjoyment of a children's toy with the delivery of water from a borehole. I'm not sure of the specifics behind how it works, but as children spin the toy, water is pumped from the tap. I saw a few of these pumps around Machinga yesterday, and I was able to have a conversation with some of the folks here about them.

At first glance, it's a creative idea, especially when they're placed in schoolyards. But here are a few issues:

1) Very rarely are Play Pump spare parts available. There is a service number on the pump, but it is a South Africa number. As people around here say, it often takes a long time to get a response and any sort of attention to service. Although, I'd be interested if anyone has any recent information on Play Pump spare part availability. 

2) Government officials here have told me that in certain instances, perfectly functioning Afridev pumps were removed and replaced with Play Pumps. Why fix something that isn't even broken? Especially when the Afridev pumps have a relatively good reputation in Malawi.

3) How much are communities consulted before these pumps are installed? How will a community feel ownership and the responsibility to maintain something they never requested or wanted in the first place? I should note that I'm sure that in some cases, community consultation does happen with Play Pumps. 
4) They may be suitable for providing schools with water when children are in class, but as Yesin tells me, these pumps often supply water to some members of the surrounding community with water also. 
So what happens when children aren't around, and adults are required to pump this water? Well, check out this video:

6) These pumps appear to be a flashy, feel-good piece of infrastructure that makes some donors feel good, but do not provide a holistic approach to water supply.

I'm not an expert by any means, and these are my opinions based on my observations and what has been brought to my attention. I would love to hear other people's thoughts on the play pump, or anything that they've hear about its successful and failures.

Be well, and much love. 



  1. My thoughts right off the bat, I don't think it is effective to replace something that is already working and accepted within a community. These pumps do however have a niche in which they could preform extremely well. At schools or in similar areas where children are usually active.

    It seems, similar to many aid projects, that there is a lack of critical analysis of the entire situation. USE APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY!!

  2. These play pumps seem totally pointless to me. For the amount of effort that guy was putting into them, and took him several minutes to fill up the bucket. Like Jenn said, maybe they would do ok in a school, but certainly not as a main source of water for a village. I liked what that video said at the end about the Afridev's being quicker, and leaving dignity intact.

    Here's a critical analysis I found of it:

    Quite mentions a lot of your points, as well as some others, including a sad observation of a woman and children struggling to turn the wheel to get their water.

    I have to wonder...where is the testing phase? The part where after it is installed and the cameras have left, that the designers go back in and see how everything is working...rather than getting more donations and installing more.