This was my fourth trip to Malawi and my third with One, where I got to show one of our retail partners the projects they have funded.
Being able to take people out of their day-to-day lives in the UK and on to the ground in rural Africa to show them the role they play in transforming the day-to-day for thousands of people is one of the best things about working for One.
Once you get beyond the culture shock, the 40 degree heat and hilarious driving conditions, nothing clarifies the simple message we work to promote better than actually being around the ladies. The reason for this is that the role of collecting water always lies with women or children as they pull their daily water out of the ground.
For the relative investment of time, energy and finance, few things can rival impact of a working water pump on a rural community. A pump or ‘Chigga-Chigga’ (a name that reflects the sound it produces as the lever is pulled up and down) is a catalyst for the improvement of every aspect of village life.
Some obvious things like improved health, water for livestock/crops, time freed up for other essential jobs etc. we already know and communicate. But with every trip comes new insight and on this trip we were told about how a new pump had improved ‘male/female relations’ as women were spending less time away from the village, thereby alleviating male suspicion as to what else they might be doing.
Keeping a pump working is a collective effort that requires as much consideration as putting the equipment in the ground. In the first village we visited, we witnessed a pump repair being carried out. This pump had been out of action for two weeks, meaning the 200 villagers were getting water from their next nearest pump two kilometres away, over a mountain.
The first thing I noticed as we approached the pump was the mat with tools and rods next to it. It didn’t seem like enough equipment to repair something that went down 45m into the ground.
Nevertheless I was assured that the Chigga Chigga needs very few parts for it to work and the important thing is that each part is properly manufactured and fit for purpose. Maintaining ‘pull’ to ensure water is pulled up 45m requires a lot of precision and, although parts for the Afridev pump (the type most commonly found across Africa) are readily available in the local communities (in this case Blantyre), finding parts consistently manufactured to standard demands an expert eye.
Add to that the relative cost of parts, a small plastic connector for costing as much as two days worth of wages at $2, and the full day’s journey it takes to get from the rural communities to the city and back, it’s easy to see why quick, ‘homemade’ fixes are often preferred. These involve using rubber cut from flip flops instead of proper seals, burning the rim of pipes to seal them when there is a leak and other ingenious, but ultimately short term, solutions.
A well maintained pump should last years but many of the pumps that break down are simply left as people migrate to the next region, creating more stress on those pumps.
The irony is that in most cases pumps can be easily rehabilitated and for a fraction of the cost of drilling a borehole in the first instance. Striking a water source of clean drinking water with a drilling rig can be a matter of luck but the maintenance of existing pumps should be a matter of planning and education.
That is why we are investing in programmes that identify and rehabilitate broken pumps in Malawi. In one village we met two engineers whose role it is to repair the equipment and educate members of the local water committee, consisting of nominated villagers (majority women again) whose role it is to govern the pump and provision of water.
As part of the scheme the water committee ensures the village pays in a nominal amount to cover the upkeep of the pump. This money comes from selling food in the local market and ensures the villagers have an active stake in the process and it is left to outsiders to sort out.
The benefit of training the water committee is that the pump will sustain the village far longer than simply replacing a faulty part, which is why it’s such an important focus for all the pumps we implement.