Case Study Handpump Standardisation

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Africa Groundwater Atlas >> Additional resources >> Case studies >> Handpump standardisation

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Handpump standardisation

What is handpump standardisation?

Handpump standardisation refers to formal or informal methods to control the types of handpumps used in a particular country or region. There are over 1 million handpumps in sub-Saharan Africa (MacArthur 2015). The wide variation in different handpump designs (see the photos, below) helps to ensure that the right design can be chosen to fit the local hydrogeological context, but it also makes it more difficult and expensive to source and supply the right parts, and to ensure suitable skills and experience, for maintenance and repair.

Figure 1 - India Mark II handpump. Image credit: Shree S.K. Industries
Figure 2 - Volanta pump. Image credit: RWSN
Figure 3 - Afridev handpump. Image credit: RWSN
Figure 4 - Zimbabwe bush pump. Image credit: Creating Better Futures

Standardisation has largely been applied to community handpumps, leaving private households that drill or dig their own wells to install them with the abstraction technology they choose. The first country in Africa to introduce formal standardisation was Guinea, in 1982. Here, it was specified that organisations installing handpumps should use the Vergnet pump in the west zone and the Kardia pump in the east zone: each pump was better suited to the particular hydrogeological environments in the respective zones. Later, in the 1990s, UNICEF began to dominate standardisation advocacy more widely across Africa.

How does handpump standardisation work?

Standardisation can work in a variety of ways. It can refer only to a design or operating feature, or to a specific brand or model of handpump. For example, UNDP and the World Bank introduced the idea of Village Level Operation and Maintenance (VLOM), to promote the capability of communities to maintain their own handpumps. VLOM-compatibility has become a concept that is sometimes used as an informal standard, where only handpumps that can be maintained by a local community are acceptable. Another design standard suggested for public domain handpumps (for which the design is not patented) has been suggested by the Rural Water Supply Network, and some countries have chosen to adopt this standard.

Different approaches to handpump standardisation

Formal regulations

These may take different forms in different countries, with different pump styles designated for different functions or depths.

For example, Angola specifies the Volanta pump (Figure 2) for boreholes over 30 m deep in the south of the country; the AfriDev pump (Figure 3) for boreholes 10 to 50 m deep in central and northern Angola; and the Vergnet Hydro India Pump for use in schools.

Different countries may also endorse different numbers of pumps or designs – for example, whereas Angola specifies three, Zimbabwe’s policy regulates that only the Zimbabwe bush pump (Figure 4) should be used. Formal standardisation may be explicit, comprising its own policy, or be implicitly referred to within other policies.


These comprise a list of government-approved handpumps. Many countries that recently introduced standardisation have taken this rather flexible approach. For example, the Madagascan Directorate of Water and Sanitation has endorsed the Tanzy, Vergnet, India Mark II (Figure 1) and Canzee pumps. Benin has gone as far as to endorse specific suppliers.


These are similar to endorsements, except that the recommended models do not have explicit government backing. For example, a recommended list may have been produced by one or more non-governmental organisation. In Burkina Faso, donor preference has led to the dominance of the India Mark II pump, although the Vergnet, Volanta and Kardia pumps are also sometimes used.

Informal norms

These exist where one dominant type of handpump has been widely adopted in a country or region without government or other intervention, for example in response to economic forces. For example, the perceived lower cost of the Mono pump may be one of the reasons that have led to its dominance in South Africa. However, if the popular pump type is not appropriate for the hydrogeological or other conditions where it is being used, it may fail relatively quickly, increasing costs in the long run.

Noncompliance with handpump standards

Of course, standards are not always followed, even where formal standards are enforced with fines for noncompliance. For example:

  • Pilot studies are sometimes carried out using nonstandard pumps.
  • The person or organisation installing a handpump may be unaware of the standards.
  • Installers may deliberately evade compliance, for example:

- to be able to order a single type of pump for a large area, perhaps for economies of scale - if there are concerns that the recommended pump is too high-maintenance for the user group - if it is perceived that the recommended pump is too expensive or inappropriate for hydrogeological conditions. For example, concern about corrosion because of low pH groundwaters led JICA to install the Afridev rather than the recommended India Mark II pump in Zambia, because the Afridev had non-corrodible PVC components.

Some criticisms of handpump standardisation

  • It can discourage design innovation or adoption of new technology.
  • It can lead to market monopolies.
  • It can be problematic if standardisation is on a technology that is inappropriate for a given area.


MacArthur J. 2015. Handpump Standardisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: seeking a champion. Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) Publication 2015-1

Harvey PA and Skinner BH. 2002. Sustainable handpump projects in Africa: Report on fieldwork in Zambia. WEDC, Loughborough University, May 2002.

Harvey PA and Kayaga SM. 2003. Sustainable handpump projects in Africa: Report on fieldwork in South Africa. WEDC, Loughborough University, July 2003.

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