Handpump functionality: what is the threshold for area mechanics

My colleague Catarina Fonseca attended the “managing handpump water supplies” session. She says

after three hours of plenary and sessions, we keep hearing about low levels of functionality. 65% of handpumps in Chad being non-functional was the latest figure reported by Philippe Lacour-Gayet from IDO. In the session (again – when links are available we’ll add them), three presenters/organisations (SNV, EWB and IDO), talked about their approaches to support area mechanics for handpump maintenance in Chad, Malawi and Uganda. They have all reported that while on the one hand communities are adept at undertaking very minor maintenance themselves, it is difficult for them to pay for more complicated maintenance – in essence anything above 100USD as this is too expensive.  The result is that many of the area mechanics end up without being paid at all – or are paid by the external organisations who provided the training in the first place.

There is an interesting paradox here, many NGOs train community structures to undertake minor  maintenance; and then train area mechanics to do the bigger more complex jobs (what we would call capital maintenance).  But villagers are unable or unwilling to pay for these larger jobs, meaning that the area mechanics end up becoming redundant.

I guess that for me this is further confirmation of something that we seem to be seeing increasingly clearly in our own and others data – namely that for the poorest rural communities there is a limit to what they can or will pay to maintain facilities (at least while there are alternatives even if these are not ‘improved’) and that if ‘someone’ else (by preference (local) government) is not prepared to cover these costs the minimal levels of service needed to achieve public health impact will not be maintained.

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