The BlueZone O&M model

The key to the success of the BlueZone Model is the Dutch made BluePump handpump.
This is a very strong and reliable Low-Maintenance Community HandPump, but we do not recommend to install a BluePump in the middle of nowhere and hope for the best for the coming 50 years.

Having said that, the question is: "What is the best way to maintain a BluePump?"

And in "best", we mean; most efficient, so at the low-cost for the Community. Maintenance cost is often referred to as TOPEX (Total Operational Expenses) which is not only costs of the day to day issues and occasional repairs, but also the main repairs that may come up after 10 or 15 years.

In the past, the traditional way to maintain a community handpump was the "VLOM Model" (Village Level Operated & Maintained). This goes back to the "Water Decade" (1980 to 1990).

The underlying reason to promote VLOM was to make it more easy for NGO water projects to just install a handpump in a village, give some basic repair training to local Water Committee members, make a picture for the fundraiser and leave and NEVER look back...

This VLOM model was also very convenient for the local Government because they had no responsibility or "after-care" whatsoever for the functionality of the pump. In other words, if the pump would fail, the NGOs and Government would blame the community.

However, already in the nineties, it became clear that this colonial oriented VLOM system did NOT provide a "sustainable" operation of the handpumps. See the revolutionary and "bold" article of Micheal Wood of CARE international, 1994, Click Here)

Only in 2010, 16 years after the bold article of Michel Wood and after a lot of "hot" debates in the Rural Water Supply sector between VLOM critics and VLOM promotors, the devastating evidence of broken handpumps all over Africa could not be denied anymore.

Finally, in a shocking but honest publication, UNICEF / RWSN (Click Here) finally admitted that on average over 40% (in some areas over 70%) of the donated handpumps were non-functional and that the VLOM model for Community handpumps did not provide the expected "sustainable" operation. RWSN concluded that the Communities were NOT to blame, but that these often poor people actually never got a fair chance to play their role in the maintenance of the pumps.

Having said that, what is a better solution? What would be a more appropriate role for the Rural Communities to play to make the "simple" handpump sustainable in a Community? 

The VLOM handpump maintenance model did not provide a "sustainable" solution, see for instance the critical article of Dr. Ellie Chows; failing pumps in Africa (click here).

The BlueZone Maintenance Model (BMM)
We have been involved since 1998 in sustainability issues of Rural handpumps all over Africa.
See for instance an early publication about this subject for the WEDC Conference of 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia (Click Here).

In this WEDC 2001 article, we already pointed out that the VLOM model does not work and that a better, innovative model must be developed, with the main idea of "Regional Maintenance" instead of the decentralized VLOM system.

In the years that followed, we spoke with many stakeholders, especially with the communities and private local pump mechanics, as well as with the local Government and their pump mechanics in about 10 countries in Africa, about their experience with handpump maintenance and what THEY would suggest as the best maintenance model for the BluePump.

With their valuable input, we developed the "BlueZone" O&M system, which is now considered by most stakeholders to be the most sustainable way to maintain rural handpumps in Africa.


The BlueZone Approach
The basic concept of the BlueZone O&M is about:
1) The Community is in the lead, while
2) The District Water Department (DWD) is doing monitoring
3) All BluePumps that are grouped together
4) The Maintenance is done by a Regional Mechanic
5) Technical and Spare Parts service is provided by a contry dealer.

This allows the Communities with BluePumps to:
1.  Have an uninterrupted service, 24/7 clean water;
2.  Pay as less as possible for their water supply;
3.  Have once a year, a check-up of the condition of the BluePump.
4.  Rent or "lease" more BluePumps for a fair price, if required
5.  Being part of an effective & efficient monitoring system.

In the rare case of a problem, the community will always know where to go for a quick repair of the BluePump. This may sound obvious for handpump repairs, but the reality shows that in most cases with other Community handpumps in Africa this is not the case.

The overall TOPEX for a Community to maintain a BluePump in such a BlueZone is about US$ 50,- to US$ 100,- per year, or about 2 US$ per family per year.

It is expected that on average, in a period of 3 to 5 years, the BluePump may need some adjustment. There are no regular replacement of spare parts needed as is the case with other handpumps in Africa.

In the case of a problem with the BluePump, the Community Pump Care Taker (PCT) will report the repair to the DWD and contact the Local Pump Mechanic (LPM) to repair the pump.

This LPM can be as well an "independent" Mechanic, of a "Government" Mechanic, working with or in collaboration with the DWD.

After the RPM has solved the problem, he presents his invoice to the DWD and is paid for his work. This is paid by the DWD from the accumulated budget of all contributions of all BluePumps is this system.

Every RPM has a designated area in which he installs and maintains the BluePumps. So he knows the community and the community knows him. This builds trust, which is important for a good co-operation.

In the ideal BlueZone, the communities can request BluePumps (in new boreholes or in an old borehole to replace broken pumps) directly at the DWD. They have BluePumps in stock (donated by donors or the Central Government) and can make a simple contract with the representative of that community. The community engages itself to assist with the installation and must pay for the cost of the installation, which is normally less than US$ 500,- to the DWD, who sub-contract this out to the RPM.

The yearly collection of the yearly lease amount, as well as the additional fixed cost of occasional repairs, is done by the pump caretaker, with the support of the local water committee.

Again, it is strongly recommended that the local Government will have the leading role to secure the basic water service in their area. They take action; from the installation of the pump to the maintenance of the pump, to keep sufficient stock of pumps & spare parts and to collect the payments of the community, in the way they think it's best.

The DWD can buy the spare parts directly at the Country Representative for the BluePump, or contact BluePump in the Netherlands ( for additional assistance when needed.

The advantages of the BlueZone Maintenance Model are:
1.) Monitoring is taken care of by the DWD (which pump works and which pump doesn't);
2.) Direct feedback on the quality of the service is secured;
3.) People know right from the start of the water project where to go in case of problems;
4.) NGOs and others who want to do a water project also know where to go;
5.) The DWD can indicate where are the most urgent locations;
6.) Funding is used in an optimal way;
7.) The DWD can keep a stock of all spare parts needed;
8.) The DWD can also keep a stock of pumps as well for direct support;
9.) When the community does not pay, the DWD can install the pump elsewhere.

We know that many NGOs do not like or trust or don't like to work with Local Governments in Africa for various reasons. Indeed, there have been challenges in the past.

But we strongly believe (backed up by many examples) that putting the Local Government in the lead of planning, installation, and maintenance, is the best way in the end to have sustainable development.

They will always be there, they will build up the regional institutional memory, while NGOs and the private sector have a risk and tendency to disappear after a while.

The HandPump Caretaker (HPC)
The day to day operation of the BluePump in a BlueZone is best to be supervised by only 1 person. Often this person (the HPC) is selected in the community by a Water Committee.

Please note: that this person is NOT supposed to repair the pump, he/she is just responsible for the daily operation, such as opening and closing the pump when needed, organizing the fetching of water in case of high demand, keeping livestock away from the pump and cleaning of the area around the pump.

Sometimes the Cartaker is paid (about US$ 10,- to max 20 US$ per month) for this activity, this is up to the community, or up to the user group of the pump to decide.

When people should pay a fixed amount per bucket, best is that they pay directly to the HPC. In that case, we advise using "BlueCoins" to pay for a bucket of 20 liters of water. BlueCoins make payment easier and can be obtained with the BluePump country dealer. 

The Regional Pump Mechanic (RPM).
The Regional Pump Mechanic assists communities in the unlikely case of a Murphy problem. They are trained and supported by the BluePump Country representative as well as by the Local Districts Water officer (LDW).

In case of a problem with the pump, the pump Caretaker will aks the RPM or the DWO for assistance, whatever is easier. After fixing the problem, the RPM will receive a fixed contribution from the pump caretaker and report back to the DWO on the kind of the problem. The DWO will pay the rest of the bill and his travel expenses.

A yearly check-up of all BluePumps provides monitoring and secures the water supply. With many BluePumps in a BlueZone, communities profit from the upscaling of this repair service and pay about 50,- US$ per pump per year to "lease" the BluePump.

BlueCoins to pay for water at the BluePump

The BlueCoins
A BlueCoin (BC) is, in fact, a small plastic blue card (Credit card size). Each BC has the value of 20 liters of water and has a unique number, so the caretaker knows the numbers of "his" BC cards.

BluePump BlueCoin

The Caretaker (or the Water Committee) sells these cards upfront to the users, e.g. 10 at the same time, (therefore there is a small hole for s string to hold them together) with or without a bonus. One BlueCoin has a value of 20 liters of water; we recommend a selling price for this of about US$ 0,01, (about 5,0 FCFA) more is definitely not needed.

Salary of the Caretaker
Because official coins with a value of 5,0 FCFA are hard to find in the bush, the BlueCoin system comes in very handy: For instance, 10 BlueCoin cards may sell for US$ 0,10 or equivalent in local currency, e.g. around 50 FCFA. Based on an average of 150 buckets per day, this gives a revenue of 150 x 0,01 = US 1,50 (about 800 FCFA) per day, or about US$ 45,- (25.000 FCFA) per month.

In practice this will be less, around US$ 30,- (about 17.000 FCFA) per month over the year because the demand for water varies during the year; in the rainy season, people buy less water. However, The remaining US$ 30,- is large enough to pay for the maintenance of the BluePump.

When people pay for the water with the BlueCoin card, the caretaker receives these cards back in return for 20 liters of water, and the cards can be sold again. This is a simple and fool-proof system to regulate and monitor the selling of water at the pump.

Only for the caretaker
The money of the BlueCoins is only to be used to pay for the services of the caretaker. In the unlikely case, a repair is needed, the water committee is called in and collects the extra cost for the repair from the users.

We do NOT advise to set aside a small amount each time for repairs. Because the BluePump will normally function for many years, there is a real risk that the money for the repairs is used up for other things and not anymore available when it is finally needed for a repair. Keeping the money somewhere will just create problems of trust in the village.

Cost of repairs
On average, based on data of over 1.000 BluePumps in Africa, it is estimated that BluePump TOPEX cost will be about US$ US$ 50,- to max US$ 100,- per year over a period of 25 years.

That is the lowest maintenance cost compared with any other hand pump...

The production cost of BluePump water.
The daily Technical Operational Expenses (TOPEX), excluding the payment for a pump caretaker for a BluePump in a BlueZone is about 25,- to 50,- US$ per year.

For this amount, you have about 4.000 liters per day, enough for 50 families, while each family will pay an equal share of the yearly TOPEX. In case there are 50 families, each family is paying about US$ 1,0 per year. 

This is about US$ 0,03 per m3.

 That is very affordable for 24/7 clean water supply.

handpump bluepump
BluePumps =  Reliable water for the lowest price in the world

Because of the simplicity and reliability of the BluePump, breakdowns are rare and can easily be resolved without using spare parts. Nevertheless, in a BlueZone O&M system, all necessary BluePump spare parts are locally available on short notice.

All expert on rural water supply agrees that the BlueZone concept with the durable BluePump is the best and cheapest O&M solution for sustainable and affordable community water supply.

For more information on BlueZone O&M, please contact us.