Diary entry from Ben Bolt from ISS UK who details the importance of pump repair and maintenance from her recent trip to Malawi

Malawi is home to over 18 million people and is known for its nickname as the warm heart of Africa because of how friendly the people are. But 50% of the population live below the poverty line and 25% in extreme poverty.

The first part of our visit was seeing the Pump Repair and Maintenance Programme. When this programme started, only 40% of the c.350 water pumps across Blantyre worked. After the pumps were installed, over time with wear and tear, many had stopped working forcing people to walk hours to access clean water. But thanks to the money raised by The One Foundation and the work of its partners on the ground, there were no broken ones to show us! Instead we practiced on a training pump they have at the local training school.

Learning how the water pumps work

Once we had learnt about the programme, we visited a pump in Somba that served around 20 families. Each water pump has a small committee which is responsible for the pump including collecting money which goes towards its maintenance and repair. The programme trains these committees to run routine checks to prevent their complete break-down and to enable them to carry out any repairs required. The ultimate aim is that communities become self-sufficient and NGO support can move to areas in greater need.

While we were there, we fitted a sensor to the pump which is part of an exciting pilot project in collaboration with Google which will send information about the usage and status of the pump back to a central dashboard. This information will show how much the pump is being used, when it is being used and importantly whether there is any sign of malfunction. This information will enable NGO’s to better deploy their support and also identify pumps that need attention before they completely break and access to water stops.

Operations Manager Maren pumping water after the sensor was fitted

We also looked at how water is accessed in more urban areas. Even in these areas, water was still accessed by, mostly women and children, taking huge buckets to be filled at tap stands. The difference is that there are more taps available and that they are run as a business. Each tap stand is manned by a Water Seller who is paid to collect water tariffs, keep the area clean and most importantly, open and close the stands in the morning and evening to prevent theft. There is no access to water outside of the manned times which are very much dictated by daylight.

Tap stands in urban areas are governed by a Board of Directors who are responsible for their areas. We were very surprised to be presented with a full blown annual report covering governance structure and a financial breakdown for the year!

Typical tap stand in an urban area

The whole trip can only be described as a whirlwind. We were totally swept up in the experience during the time we were there so it wasn’t until the journey home that we had the opportunity to take it all in. No one could quite believe how they’d spent the last 48 hours but these are my three key take-aways:

  • We visited some hugely deprived areas but the trip felt so positive. Everyone we met was happy and could see their families and communities becoming healthier as a result of clean water
  • Clean water isn’t just about having something to drink. It’s paramount for providing medical care, it boosts the economy through employment and means people can access hygienic washing/toilet facilities
  • The women and children are admirable! The strength and coordination required to carry 40 litres of water on their head is impressive. But to also attend school and care for a family on top – possibly spending two hours upwards a day getting water amazing