Posted by: norapillard | September 23, 2010

Lessons Learned: PlayPumps International

Frontline World recently aired an episode titled, “Troubled Waters.”  It served as a follow-up report from their original segment about Play Pumps International (which aired three years ago).  Their first report described the “benefits of clean drinking water” and the plan to raise more than 60 million dollars by 2010 in order to expand Play Pumps to 10 African nations- they wanted to move fast!

Three years later, their visit to South Africa depicted a far different picture than previously anticipated. This episode highlights several of the challenges that arose during the expansion process- challenges that are common in international development work.

Click here to watch the video clip

(1) Maintenance: The report found that only 13 pumps were operating by 2010. The Ministry of Water in Mozambique told Frontline that when a pump broke, it took more than three months to repair. The plan for maintenance depended on revenues generated by selling ad space on billboards on the sides of the water tanks. With this revenue, they could create a repair line. Community members reported that when they called the line to report a broken pump, there was no response.

(2)   Site selection: When Frontline visited several sites, community members reported that they did not know anything about the Play Pumps when workers arrived to construct them. Community members were never a part of the decision process and had not requested a Play Pump.

(3)   Transparency: Once Frontline began investigating, they found several evaluation reports that had not been released. A UNICEF report described problems with the pumps and the project roll out and wrote that the idea was “not as sustainable as it needed to be in rural Africa”.

(4)   Quantity vs. Quality: When Frontline interviewed the South African Director of Play Pumps, she stated that they “could have been less focused on quantity and more focused on getting it right”.

The Frontline World report serves to highlight challenges that are common in international development work. Development involves finding solutions for problems- and the problems are never predictable, nor are they easy! The experience in South Africa should be considered when planning future projects.

The challenges related to maintenance, site selection, transparency, and quantity vs. quality have been crucial elements in WfW’s planning as an organization. The Water for Waslala website contains further information about our approach.



  1. […] Waslala, we can’t do this. Precisely because of point #2 in Nora Pillard’s most recent post, we need to involve the community in site selection, so our selection of people receiving the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: