5 min read

Reliable, Clean Water in Developing Nations

Reliable, Clean Water in Developing Nations
Written by
Simple Pump
Published on
February 3, 2023


According to a 2010 report coauthored by WHO and UNICEF, 900 million people do not have access to safe supply of drinking water. From recent World Health Organization (WHO) reports, the impact of diarrhoeal disease on children is greater than the combined impact of HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria; several different reports conclude that provision of improved sanitation and drinking water could reduce diarrhoel diseases by nearly 90%.

As you would expect, access to a safe supply of drinking water is an absolute prerequisite to solving sanitation problems.


The economic impact is profound. In poor rural areas, women and girls spend, on average, 15 to 17 hours per week collecting water. Poor children around the world miss 443 million days of school each year because of water-related illnesses. In 60 countries in the developing world, more than half of primary schools have no adequate water facilities and nearly two thirds lack adequate sanitation. close to half of all people in developing countries suffer from health problems resulting from a lack of water and sanitation.

Clean Water in Developing Nations

Per the GLAAS 2010 report (footnote), “Increasing people’s access to sanitation and drinking water brings large benefits to the development of individual countries through improvements in health outcomes and the economy.”

The fertility rate is the average number of children a woman will have during her lifetime. It is universally acknowledged that a high birthrate is a major factor perpetuating poverty in the world’s poorest. While many debate the means by which the fertility rate of the poorest should be reduced, one statistical relationship points to a solution.

Macroeconomic research shows that just somewhat higher living standards, and the better communications and more education that come with them, enable those escaping poverty to rely on markets and public services, not just themselves and their family.

As a result, fertility starts to drop at an annual income per person of $1,000-2,000 and falls until it hits the replacement level at an income per head of $4,000-10,000 a year. This roughly tracks the passage from poverty to middle-income status and from an agrarian society to a modern one. Thereafter fertility continues at or below replacement until, for some, it turns up again.

The amazing thing is that this is true across all societies, and even for poor regions in otherwise above-subsistence countries.

Consider, then, the potential impact of taking back the 15 to 17 hours per week that poor women and girls spend collecting water. It would substantially boost the productivity of over half of the entire population.


In his recent essay, Edward D. Breslin, CEO, Water for People, says it best, “But the images that dominate – pictures of children happily gulping water from a new tap – do not tell the whole story. The real image should be the one that plays itself out every day all over the world — of the woman walking slowly past a broken handpump, bucket at her side or on her head, on her way to (or from) that scoop hole or dirty puddle that she once hoped would never again be part of her life… The broken handpump is a constant reminder of our inability to escape poverty.”


As will be explained in more detail, by any measure, the hand pumps deployed in the developing world are quite unreliable. All the data we have show that Simple Pumps are many times more reliable.

The initial purchase price of the currently-used pumps is significantly less than a Simple Pump. Therefore, many find it surprising that, compared to the pumps currently deployed in developing nations, Simple Pumps are several times less expensive to buy, install and operate, if total costs over the useful life of both pumps is considered.

Many factors will determine whether much of the world’s destitute will be able to escape subsistence-level poverty. However, it is inescapable that such an achievement will depend upon dramatically improving the reliability of handpumps, and therefore the availability of clean water. We expect that, when you know the facts, the Simple Pump will be the obvious choice.

1. GLAAS 2010, UN Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water, released April, 2010; World Health Organization & Institute for Water, Environment and Health, UN University.


Simple Pump’s founder, Greg Burns, sold Simple Pump to pursue a dream. His goal: Bring Simple Pump CNC machining to Africa. So, he packed up two large CNC machining tables and went there. These were so large that the two machines filled a standard-size shipping container.

When he got to Africa, he encountered all the usual problems of corruption. Undeterred, he opened a manufacturing facility using the equipment that had just arrived. However, he was never able to get the shop to our high standards of commercial-quality production because of the low quality of electric power.

The grid went down frequently. So he bought a number of generators to address short outages. The part that could not be overcome was how “dirty” the power was when it was working. The frequency of the power delivered was so variable that an untrained ear could hear the motors that drove the cutting tools revving up and down with its fluctuations. To put it mildly, this is not a recipe for precision machining.

Many of the Simple Pump’s advantages lie in its precision manufacture. Lighter weight, high efficiency, dramatic reliability, easy of installation, ease of use and ease of maintenance all come from precision machining. Without such machining, anything produced is no longer a Simple Pump; it’s merely a crude imitation, probably with similar reliability problems to the incumbents.

After spending a considerable time attempting to make his enterprise work, and investigating whether moving it elsewhere made sense, he concluded that the only way he could meet his own production standards was to build a power plant himself. He actually considered this, but, after much research, decided the project was impractical.


There have been some improvements in the quality of power generation and distribution in Africa since Greg’s attempts. In a couple of countries, the reality of clean power generation and distribution in Africa is apparently in place.

However, there is another fundamental issue. The bad news, from the perspective of creating jobs, is that, in order to achieve this the quality of work, machines perform most of it.

There are relatively few people involved with the work at Simple Pump, or for that matter, at our suppliers. All of the manufacturing is done by CNC machining performed by highly specialized individuals.

So manufacturing Simple Pumps does not generate much demand for labor — and the demand that is required must be very highly skilled. This makes the current obstruction of “must be manufactured locally” doubly illogical.


A recent Stanford study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that it required only a very RELIABLE pump and an inexpensive drip irrigation system to transform African villages with malnourished children (six months of the year) into net exporters of food with children that were well-nourished all year around. That means that the application of just one superior technology, and a bit of irrigation knowledge, is ALL that is required to move entire villages from destitute to more than 20% above subsistence income. We do not think that local employment should be the central consideration when so much is at stake.


But even more at stake than the reliable delivery of water, there is also cost. When the TOTAL COST of providing well water is considered, Simple Pump cuts the total cost of delivering drinking water in half. Include all the costs, including the construction of the well (including drilling). Because a smaller casing is required, cutting the cost of drilling by up to two-thirds, the initial cost of acquisition is half that of any other hand pump. So, even if dramatically higher reliability, lower costs to install, and lower costs to repair and maintained are put aside for the moment, just the delivery of a well equipped with a Simple Pump is dramatically cheaper. Therefore, if local manufacture is mandated, not only is unreliable access to water a result, dramatically higher, costs to deliver that water is, too!

We believe that “local employment” should NOT be the central consideration it now is. Clean water and jobs are both desirable. But they are not equally important. And it is past time to admit that having a clean, reliable water supply comes well before and is much more important than jobs created essentially by mandate. Making “local manufacturing” a prerequisite to doing business prevents the adoption of dramatically better technology, precisely because new technologies remove manual labor, when doing so improves quality dramatically.

Water will provide a foundation that allows jobs – but the water, and the life it gives – need to come first. Reliable water supply needs to be made the central sacrosanct “North Star” — THE central goal around which planning is done and strategic decisions are made.


Our customers in Africa no longer see a single hand pump for a village as necessarily the most economical approach or most effective approach.

They have told us that acquiring three of our very reliable pumps, installed into far cheaper-to-drill two-inch wellbores, and with much less costly site prep and spares costs, offer far more benefits, at a lower cost, than one centrally-located high-cost-to-drill large-borehole well.

The most obvious benefit is the peace of mind from knowing that if one breaks, water will still be available.

A pump placed to service irrigation or watering herds can later be converted later to solar, with nothing more required than a manual and a few tools.The Simple Pump generates 50 psi. So it generates the pressure required for indoor plumbing. Similarly, it can be used to provide the water under pressure required for drip and other sophisticated and frugal water delivery methods.

However, to even consider applications like this, the fundamental and long-standing assumption that must change is that hand pumps are inherently unreliable and, once broken, extraordinarily labor-intensive to repair.

The “unreliable” paradigm is simply not true. The Simple Pump is enormously better made and is much more reliable than the unreliable pumps most people think are all that is available.

Furthermore, “cheap” usually holds many hidden costs (as most people really know, in their own lives). The next page explores, in detail, how the best decision comes from considering ALL cost and risk factors – initial cost PLUS maintenance, parts, labor, and health.



Simple Pump compares VERY favorably to other US-made well pumps — in price, materials, and reliability. But India Mark II/III/VLOM and AFRIDEV hand water pumps are ubiquitous in the developing world. Some NGOs have dismissed the Simple Pump as an alternative. They regard it as “too expensive”, by which they mean that they consider the initial cost of acquisition too high.


We would respectfully suggest that many other factors are critical. And, in fact, the “initial cost” approach is not at all the best for well-managed entities to use when they procure equipment.

The following total cost of ownership (TCO) comparison of Simple Pump to the Mark II/III/VLOM pumps outlines additional these critical factors to consider.



In buying any pump, the cost of parts for normal maintenance in the foreseeable future must be reckoned as part of the purchase. According to a project approved by seven water NGO peers at Peerwater.org, including one from CARE, the cost of spares to sustainably maintain Mark II/III/VLOM pumps is estimated at $590 (1). Comparable costs for the Simple Pump are in the tens of dollars. This extra cost of spare parts, alone, eliminates the apparent savings seen when solely comparing the initial acquisition costs.



“The construction of a platform (or slab) at the wellhead is an important contribution to the general hygiene in a community. In addition to discouraging the accumulation of stagnant water at the surface, the slab will help to prevent the contamination of the well through the infiltration of dirty water back into the aquifer.”


While we would never say that anyone approach to site preparation should be used universally, our experience shows that most of the time, our pump, anchored firmly to a metal well casing, in a wellbore of some depth, avoids contamination problems. Unlike very wide-mouth hand-dug wells, water that pools near such a deeper wellbore, and its well casing holding the Simple Pump, has no better chance of contaminating the aquifer than does a pool 20 meters away.

The Mark II/III/VLOM and AFRIDEV pumps, by design, MUST be sunk into concrete. Yet, if in many situations, the cement platform is not required when installing a Simple Pump, the platform is a cost paid solely for AFRIDEV pump installation.


The cost of drilling a wellbore for a four-inch casing, the smallest-diameter casing used for the Mark II/III/VLOM, is around 3.5 times the cost of drilling a well bore for the two-inch well casing required by a Simple Pump. This extra cost, alone, can easily swamp the apparent savings seen when solely comparing the acquisition costs.

For example, Lifewater.org Canada had published drilling costs over five countries. $3,000 was the lowest cost estimate per well. Therefore, conservatively, drilling costs for a wellbore for a Simple Pump could cut $2,000 from the cost of drilling one well!

A number of studies cited at the Rural Water Supply Network Community site show overall water hand pump project costs for Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Kenya between $6,000 and $11,700. Two studies, for Burkina Faso and Senegal, estimate the average cost of borehole construction without the pump. The costs were $46.34/foot, or $3,200, for a 70-foot well in Burkina Faso, with Senegal’s average cost more than three times higher.

There are some geological formations in which the four-inch wellbore typically drilled for the Simple Pump’s two-inch casing is not practical. One example is much of Tanzania, where the formations are so sandy that a four-inch wellbore collapses. However, a four-inch wellbore drilled for the Simple Pump’s smaller two-inch casing is workable for most wells in most geological formations in Africa.

Therefore, the apparent saving for the initial purchase of a Mark II/III/VLOM pump is offset by costs many times that to drill a borehole for a four-inch casing, rather than for Simple Pump’s two-inch diameter casing. THIS ONE FACTOR has already countered the initial apparent savings.


Simple Pump’s 95-130 pounds shipping weight, including PVC, means that transport of the pump to the well bore is much less expensive; a comparable representative Mark II weight is 330 lbs. Because of its heavyweight, three men are required to install a Mark II pump. As these videos show, one man can install a Simple Pump quite easily.

The ease of installation has been demonstrated repeatedly. In the words of one of our customers who installed our pump in Africa:

“Having never installed a water pump, I was looking for something that was not going to take a rocket scientist to be able to understand the directions… We were able to finish in less than an hour without any major problems.”



In general, when lever-arm pumps fail in Africa, the infrastructure is not in place to get parts to the well at all quickly. Then, even if parts can be procured, arranging for repair can consume more time. We are told that the typical unit of measure for time to repair is months.

According to our contacts, 25 – 75 percent of Mark II/III pumps are broken at any given time. The Rural Water Supply Network’s Work Plan (January 2009 – December 2011) includes data on the percentage of non-functioning pumps across 21 African nations; on average, 36% of all hand pumps across those nations are not functioning.

The cost of downtime must also be figured into TCO, both in terms of labor time, and in terms in repercussions.

On labor cost: There is no way to provide even a rough estimate downtime costs, but the costs per hour per villager do not have to be very high to make this factor significant.

On repercussions: Citing one incident we heard about: A local micro-economy was hit hard by the failure of their primary source of water due to a broken pump. The costs were quite high because the failure happened in a critical part of the growing season. Even when there is another source of water during the pump’s downtime, transporting water from the alternate source, to where it is needed, also imposes significant costs in terms of hours lost.


For those who understand modern manufacturing techniques, it is clear that Simple Pump devices would be dramatically more reliable.

The data we have on pump failure is consistent with this expectation. We know of no pump of ours that has outright failed in the first five years. In contrast to this record, some consider the TOTAL effective useful life of a Mark II/III/VLOM to be five years! The Simple Pump has a 50-year useful life.

Over 200 Simple Pumps have been installed in several Canadian solid waste landfills where the Simple Pump is pumping silt-laden garbage water as part of methane recovery operations. These pumps operate 24/7/365 and have been doing so for the past 2-1/2 years with minimal reliability issues. Pump cylinder, drop pipe kits with lift rods, and rod guides used in this application are the same used with Simple Pump hand pumps. The difference is just that each is driven constantly by a 12-volt DC motor.

Over 150 Simple Pumps (model ADA100) have been installed in National Parks and Forests throughout the USA. This model is, officially, “Americans with Disabilities Act compliant”. The US Forest Service will not approve any pump for installation into the national park system unless it has a 50-year useful life. Three pumps have experienced problems, externally caused. One was beaten with a baseball bat by an angry teenager, one was shot by a high-powered rifle and one was run over by a pick-up truck. The one run over by the pick-up truck was not operable. The other two continued to function despite the abuse.

Although there is not, yet, extensive systematic field data on Simple Pump reliability, Simple Pump continues to offer its unconditional five-year guarantee on parts, without a single request for replacement to date.


The cost of villager time to repair a pump should be considered. For Simple Pump, one experienced person, or at most two adults of any stature, can install, or perform once-in-five-years maintenance, in at most two hours. The seals required can fit in a small drawer.

Compare this to any installation or maintenance of Mark II/III/VLOM or AFRIDEV pumps. We have been told by experienced field workers that maintenance of such pumps requires either a heavy lifting rig or manual labor of several individuals that can easily stretch over days. And the equipment needed requires a truck to move!


Most Mark II/III/VLOM hand water pumps are installed with galvanized iron that makes contact with the water being pumped. When the water is acidic, the risk to people’s health is increased.

A conversation with a groundwater treatment expert who had just returned from a developing nation left us initially mystified. He mentioned that, although the water from pumps was safe to drink (when the pumps were not in disrepair), the people used water from pumps for every purpose except drinking water.

A paper on iron removal from drinking water then identified the likely reason well water was not being consumed.


“As a drinking water source groundwater is often considered as better than surface water because it does not contain harmful pathogens and generally does not need treatment. However, in many locations it contains iron, either from geological formations or from iron pump components. Iron is not harmful to health, but causes people to reject the borehole water, mainly because it tastes bad and stains clothes, containers and skin. When this happens in rural areas in developing countries people return to drinking surface water and this can result in disease and death, especially for young children.”


“…experience from hundreds of iron removal plants in India show that [galvanized iron] causes bacterial oxidation and reduction cycles to take place which result in increased iron concentrations in the outlet water. This problem can be eliminated by replacing the GI parts with PVC and stainless steel…”

Data from that engineer’s three-year study of nine Mark II pumps showing iron levels mostly below the World Health’s Organization’s (WHO) 0.3mg/liter guideline maximum for pumps using PVC in lieu of galvanized iron. Those without the PVC-for-galvanized-iron replacement were substantially more likely to be significantly over the WHO standard, and therefore to produce bad-tasting water.

Some manufacturers of Mark II/III/VLOM pumps offer PVC parts as pipe options, promoting the merits of it use rather than galvanized iron. From one manufacturer’s site, using words we could have written to express one of Simple Pump’s advantages,

“The Stainless Steel Advantage: While the initial cost of SS component could be 3-5 times higher than its MS/Gun Metal/CI counterpart, it more than pays for itself in no downtime cost…”

Ironic! The apparent savings in the initial purchase are, again, eliminated, this time by the cost of actually making the drinking water palatable and safe.

The situation is exacerbated if the groundwater to be pumped is at all acidic. It is then predictable that iron will leach from the galvanized iron used in most Mark II/III/VLOM pumps. Just as current NGO procurements emphasize minimizing up-front payments to the detriment of overall project costs, whether proper water testing is performed prior to pump installation can be hit or miss. The failure to ensure adequate funding for this expertise is a risk imposed by the use of Mark II/III/VLOM pumps, and therefore an additional cost to account for.

On the other hand, Simple Pump is made completely from lead-free components that are Safe Drinking Water Act compliant. All metal parts that make contact with water are stainless steel and are manufactured precisely using computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines. The pump rods are high tensile fiberglass and the drop pipe is Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) schedule 120. The only metal making contact with the water is completely lead-free, CNC-machined stainless steel.


  • In shipping quantities (80 pumps/container to an NGO or commercial reseller), our price is not dramatically higher than the cheap India Mark II and similar pumps.
  • The cost of drilling a well our pump is dramatically lower.
  • Our pump is much more reliable. Maintenance costs are much lower.
  • The consequences of having pumps idle for long periods of time are an important factor.
  • The consequences of pump iron leaching into the water are an important factor.


To fully appreciate the Simple Pump, long-standing assumptions must be reexamined.

Because water is so critical to any community, for both sanitation and agriculture, total cost of ownership, including drilling costs, maintenance costs, safety of materials used and the risk of prolonged downtime, should be considered.

A dramatically more reliable pump can improve many aspects of daily life and allow communities to consider projects that are unthinkable now without a reliable source of water.


1 According to a project approved by seven water NGO peers at Peerwater.org, including one from CARE. On the upper right of that page is the “Application Summary” that shows “Status: Approved Accepted”. Notice the project description on this page.

Specifically, about halfway down, it says “One Repairs kit for the Chiefdom, maintenance kits for thirty villages and India Mark II pumps.” This and other text makes it clear that the project is solely for maintenance for 30 pumps in 30 villages. Toward the bottom of the page, where it says “Budget Details” is a link to a budget file (click on the Microsoft Excel icon). At the page, click “Download” to view the project details in an Excel file.

[Unfortunately, they have the encoding of the file mixed up. If you download it, you will have a file called Budget.xls.dot. In other words, it has Excel AND Word Template file extensions. Just remove the .dot, double click, and it will open in Excel.]In the Budget, on line 113, in the far right column, is the U.S. dollar-denominated cost of solely the equipment (spares) – not including the how-to-maintain and fix training – for thirty wells: $17,663.79.

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