Sunday, 20 July 2008

An elegant solution to water poverty

I'm impressed by the true sustainability of the Pump Aid project, which provides water pumps costing just $500 each for rural communities in Zimbabwe. Developed by Ian Thorpe, the elephant pump (so-called because its spillway looks like an elephants trunk, and the two people working it like its ears) can be maintained using materials available locally - unlike more expensive piston pumps which require imported parts.

The simple design, based on an ancient Chinese water-lifting device, uses a bicycle system to raise water through a pipe using washers knotted to a loop of rope. The Chinese used leather, but the Pump Aid version uses recycled plastic. A mould can be made from clay using an original washer and then when one breaks, a replacement can be made by melting down in a tin can any waste plastic available locally and pouring it into the mould. Rope is also easy to find, or can be substituted by locally-made tree bark twine.

A billion people around the world lack access to clean water. According to Ian Thorpe, a child dies every 15 seconds from unsafe water - the equivalent to 15 jumbo jets full of children crashing every day. Pump Aid is already supported by Aquaid and Thirsty Planet but requires additional sponsors to ensure that this shocking statistic is reduced, both in Zimbabwe and beyond.

The elephant pump won the St Andrews Prize for the Environment in 2005 and the World Bank Development Marketplace Prize in 2006. More info at


Ian said...

Thank you for your interest in the work of Pump Aid and the Elephant Pump. Please note that the material cost of an Elephant Pump is USD500 not 30. Please could you correct this point. Thanks. Ian Thorpe, CEO, Pump Aid

TRC said...

Sorry, Ian, glad to correct that for you.