Estimates from the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP), mandated to track progress on water and sanitation, show that in 2015 over half (56.1%) of residents of rural areas of the developing world were still using drinking water sources that fall into the “other improved” category. A substantial number of these sources are boreholes or tubewells fitted with handpumps, and the number of people relying on this technology is growing, rather than shrinking. For instance, JMP estimates prepared in 2011 show that the proportion of the population using boreholes in rural Southern Asia rose from 45% in 1990 to 56% in 2008, an increase of 250 million people.
The humble handpump is a low-cost, low-technology way to provide drinking water, especially to the poor, and has been an important part of the water supply landscape for many years. While some degree of breakdown can be expected with any infrastructure, handpumps have gained a reputation for being plagued with problems. Even assessing the extent of handpump functionality is problematic – there is no globally-accepted standard for defining and monitoring whether they are working. This hampers the efforts of policy makers and program managers to ensure that handpumps, where they are used, are sustainable and provide an acceptable level of service.
A recent paper by Richard Carter and Ian Ross, published in the journal Waterlines, explores the issue of handpump functionality, and examines how monitoring of this parameter can be improved.
This paper was reviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg, Water and Sanitation Advisor, USAID and Clarissa Brocklehurst, UNC Water Institute affiliated adjunct faculty member in Environmental Sciences and Engineering