Case Study Insurance Style Handpump Maintenance Kenya
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See also the Hydrogeology of Kenya page.
Insurance-style handpump maintenance payments in Kenya
An Oxford University project called Smart Handpumps, supported by REACH, (see also Smart Handpumps at DFID for World Water Day 2013), developed a method for remotely monitoring borehole handpump operation. This measures vibrations from a handpump handle, using a simple microprocessor, accelerometer, and mobile communications, to show whether the handpump is working as expected or not (Thomson et al. 2012). Using this method, technicians can be notified when handpumps break down, and can get them fixed faster. The monitoring technology also makes it possible to tell if repairs are effective. This is an important contribution to solving one of the major problems preventing safe access to water in many African countries – the fact that so many handpumps are non-functional at any one time. For example, a 2012 water supply audit in Kwale county, Kenya, identified 570 handpumps, of which only 300 were functional at the time of the audit. Being able to identify when handpumps stop working properly as soon as possible, so they can be repaired quickly, is a big step forward. However, it isn’t the whole story.
More than technology is needed
During the Smart Handpumps project, it became clear that the technological elements of the new handpump monitoring system were easier to design and implement than a suitable financial model and institutional arrangements to underpin handpump maintenance.
To address this, FundiFix was established as a water services maintenance company, with franchises in Kwale and Kitui counties in Kenya (Oxford/RFL 2014). Communities enter into a performance-based contract with the company. They receive a hotline number to call if their pump breaks down. A key part of the contract is that FundiFix guarantees to fix ‘normal’ handpump problems within 3 days. ‘Normal’ problems are defined as technical problems relating to handpump functionality: problems with the water source itself are excluded (Oxford/RFL 2015). Initially, there was a year’s trial of the system, during which there were up to 11 breakdowns per handpump. After this, communities were asked if they wanted to pre-pay a monthly fee, through the mobile money platform M-PESA, to maintain the maintenance service. This insurance-style model was based on the premise that ‘scale reduces risk’ (Oxford/RFL 2014 & 2015, Koehler et al 2015). The contributions from all contributing community handpumps were pooled, so that high yielding pumps and those that break less frequently absorb the costs of repairs of low yielding and frequently breaking pumps.
The Fundifix system
FundiFix guarantees to:
- Fix ‘normal’ handpump breakages within three days
- Give one month of free service if repairs take more than three days
- Notify community members (up to 10 people) by SMS when community payments are made
In return, communities guarantee to:
- Make monthly maintenance payments
- Immediately report all faults to FundiFix
- Provide manual labour if needed for repairs
- Provide security and drainage for the handpump
Cost considerations and the trust fund model
Community boreholes installed with handpumps are not the only water point type in Kwale county. There are also a number of water kiosks supplied by piped water systems, fed by groundwater or surface water. The costs of obtaining water from pipeline kiosks were compared to the costs to communities of using the handpumps managed by FundiFix. Handpump-supplied water cost only between one quarter to one half (25-50%) of kiosk water, and handpumps supplied more water. However, both costs were higher than communities are willing to pay. At present, water supplies from both community handpumps and kiosks are subsidised by government and donors. It was felt that this supported a large-scale FundiFix co-funded model, which mobilises investor, government and user payments (Figure 2). Oxford University researchers noted that better coordination of government and donors would be needed to fully roll out this model.
Scaling up and financial sustainability
By 2018, FundiFix had an office and a professional team of water engineers and electro-mechanical engineers in both Kwale and Kitui counties.
The Kwale Water Services Maintenance Trust Fund is legally registered, and issues performance contracts to the maintenance service provider (Figure 2). Two international companies invested in the Trust Fund in 2017 (Base Titanium Ltd. and DoTerra). This is an example of a shift in sector thinking, with Kenya’s National Water Act (2016) recognising private sector delivery for the first time. Seventy-three handpumps in Kwale county are now registered with FundiFix, serving about 14,000 people and 1,900 pupils in nine schools.
In Kitui county, the Kitui Water Services Maintenance Trust Fund was registered in 2016/7. As of yet, one donor (through Oxford University’s REACH research programme) has contributed to the Kitui trust fund. An initial 22 handpumps registered in Mwingi-North sub-county increased to 29 by mid-2017.
Expanding to piped water schemes
To inform FundiFix’s growth strategy, in mid-2016 Oxford University’s REACH research programme supported an audit of all piped water schemes in Mwingi-North sub-county in Kitui county. This examined the status of management, governance, technical and commercial operations of the schemes. Forty-eight piped water schemes were documented, serving over 110,000 water users in 430 villages, 49 schools, 8 clinics, 1 hospital, and 260,000 livestock. Over half of these piped schemes were fully operational (55%), with 10% were partly functional. The main cause of breakdown reported was pump or generator failure. The audit established that it took on average three to ten months to fix breakdowns in these schemes, and that 80% of schemes were interested in and willing to pay for a better maintenance and repair service.
From mid-2017, FundiFix, working closely with the Kitui county government, expanded maintenance services to include such piped schemes. The business development team visited all the audited piped water schemes to market the service. They assessed the piped schemes, developed a risk management strategy, and discussed contracts with elected community representatives, in liaison with Kitui county government administrators and water department officers. During this phase there was also internal capacity building within FundiFix: increasing staff numbers, enhancing technical skills, and acquiring more tools and office space.
The first three piped schemes signed contracts with FundiFix in June-July 2017 and began receiving services immediately. Piped schemes have a similar performance-based contract to handpumps, requiring FundiFix to assess any reported breakdown within 48 hours and fix failures within five days. Breakdowns requiring complete replacement of the asset (motor, pump, generator etc) or due to water source inadequacy are not covered by the contract, and FundiFix’s role in the former is to relay breakdown details to the county government office for action.
With support from the REACH programme and UNICEF Kenya, county government-led community level awareness raising events on the benefits of water service maintenance accelerated the sign up of the piped schemes to Fundifix. By February 2018, 29 piped water schemes were registered, serving over 44,000 people. UNICEF Kenya’s partnership with the Kitui county government further builds on the FundiFix model by supporting rehabilitation of non-functional schemes. In 2017, over eight non-functional piped schemes were rehabilitated by UNICEF Kenya and immediately enrolled in the Fundifix maintenance service.
New partnerships and collaborative programmes have also emerged as a result of the Fundifix programme. Recently, a Kitui county-wide water audit, supported by a USAID-funded Sustainable WASH Systems learning programme, identified and mapped 3,126 water sources. Of these, 1,147 were handpumps and piped schemes. Of the handpumps, 45% were fully functional, 17% partly functional and 38% not working on the day of the survey. Of the piped schemes, 56% were fully functional, 15% partly-functional and 28% not working on the day of the survey. These data enable improved monitoring of rural water services, which in turn facilitates information sharing towards the provision of financially sustainable rural water services.
Goodall S, Trevett A and Mutua J. 2016. Maintaining Africa’s water infrastructure: findings from a Water Audit in Kitui County, Kenya. Policy Brief, August 2016. Oxford: UNICEF and University of Oxford.
Hope, R. 2015. Is community water management the community’s choice? Implications for water and development policy in Africa. Water Policy 17(4), 664-678. doi: 10.2166/wp.2014.170
Koehler J, Thomson P and Hope R. 2015. Pump-Priming Payments for Sustainable Water Services in Rural Africa World Development. World Development 74, 397–411.
Oxford/RFL. 2014. From Rights to Results in Rural Water Services – Evidence from Kyuso, Kenya. Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Water Programme, Working Paper 1, Oxford University, UK.
Oxford/RFL. 2015. Financial Sustainability for Rural Water Services – Evidence from Kyuso, Kenya. Water Programme, Working Paper 2, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, UK.
REACH. 2017. Water Services Maintenance Trust Fund: Financing reliable water for all in Africa. Oxford: Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Water Programme.
Thomson P, Hope RA and Foster T. 2012. GSM-enabled remote monitoring of rural handpumps: A proof of concept study. Journal of Hydroinformatics 14(4), 829-839. doi=10.1.1.853.4966
UNICEF and Oxford University. The FundiFix model: Maintaining rural water services.