29 May
  • By Pump Aid

4 Steps to Bringing Water to Remote Communities

Pump Aid works with some of the most remote communities in Malawi to supply them with a clean and safe water source. Due to the remote conditions, large pieces of equipment such as drills to make boreholes can’t reach these rural areas, so we use an Elephant pump which is completely hand-built. Take a look at how local builders and mechanics work together to bring water to secluded villages.


Step 1: Identifying where to build the water pump

Beginning the pump building process requires much planning to ensure that we are helping the people most in need. To do this, we talk with local governments who direct us toward particular areas of need, based on their development plans.  We then speak with Village Development Committees to engage with villagers and to see if they are interested in the project. If they are, then they form a ‘Water Point Committee’ from committed village members, who will both support the construction of the pump and take responsibility for its ongoing maintenance and management to get the most from their new water source. Ensuring that the village both contributes to the well digging and installation process (by providing labour for digging and brinks for the well lining) develops local ownership and means the pump is more likely to be fixed if it breaks in the future.

Once we have chosen a village to work with, with help from the Committee we must pick the specific position within the village to build the pump. Several factors determine this such as making sure it isn’t near any toilet or waste facilities which could contaminate the water supply. It’s also always positioned somewhere safe to protect the women who are often responsible for collecting it, whilst being in a good geographical place to ensure a good supply of water.


Step 2: Digging the well and preparing the parts

Once the spot has been decided on, it’s time to start digging! This can take anywhere from 5 to 10 days to complete depending on how difficult the terrain is to dig through, and how deep the well needs to be to reach the water table. Malawi has a relatively shallow water table which means that most of our wells are between 7m and 12m deep. All of our wells are hand dug. This is because other types of well such as boreholes, need to be dug with machinery that could never reach the remote locations that we work and the pumps fitted on boreholes are much more expensive both to install and repair.


Once the well is dug it gets lined with bricks supplied by the community. This is vital as it prevents the well from collapsing and means the well can continue to provide water for years to come.

Next, the focus shifts to the pump mechanics. Using locally sourced materials they build the rope and washer system, which includes welding parts together to create a strong and effective pulley system. They also make the casing of the well using concrete casts.

Step 3: Installing the pump 

Once some of the casing is in place, it’s time to fit the actual pump by suspending the wheel and making sure the pulley system is the correct length to reach the water. Then the exterior piping is fitted to ensure an easily accessible water flow. The technology involved is incredibly simple but hugely effective. The ‘flow rate’ (how much water can be extracted per minute) is more or less the same as vastly more expensive imported mechanical hand pumps.


The final step to building the pump itself is to add a large lid on the top of the casing. This seals the pump, protects it from the environment (and stray snakes and lizards!) but still allows access for any future repairs.

Once the pump is finished, a platform and run-off channel are built, to divert any spilled water away from the base of the pump to prevent the ground becoming waterlogged. This flows into either a small gravel pit so the water can recharge the water table before evaporating, or can be used to irrigate a kitchen garden in some cases, allowing villagers to grow vegetables.


Next comes the moment of truth – water! Clean and safe to drink, water comes flowing from the pipes and the village will usually organise a ceremony to formally pronounce the pump ‘open for business’. Whilst there’s a great deal of celebration at having a safe water source, it’s a serious event too as the water point committee sets out ground rules for use of the pump to ensure its ongoing good working order. In Pumps Aid’s long experience of working with remote communities in Malawi we know as do the local communities that having a safe maintained water source in their own village frees up time to be more productive in other areas, and clean water keeps people of all ages much healthier for longer.


Step 4: After the pump is installed

Even though the pump is finished, Pump Aid are committed to a sustainable approach to solving water poverty, so we don’t just walk away at this point. Local engineers regularly test the quality of the water to make sure that the pump is still producing healthy water. Local entrepreneurs are trained to be able to fix the pump should any element break or stop working, which is beyond the capacity of the villagers to fix. This means that the village hasn’t got to worry about long periods without safe water and the consequences for health and livelihoods.

So that’s how community pumps are built! Using a tried and tested method, the support from local skilled workers and a lot of collaboration between the villagers themselves and the building team. We’re really proud of the way that we work so closely with local people to deliver and maintain these pumps making the projects long-lasting and sustainable. In fact, The Charity Awards have also picked up on this and we have been shortlisted as the International Aid and Development Charity of the year!

We’d be more than happy to respond to any questions or queries you may have so feel free to get in touch by emailing ‘info@pumpaid.org’ and we will get back to you as soon as we can!


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