The PlayPump is intended to give children in South Africa a place to play and simultaneously provides their community with a much needed sustainable water source. The concept is that rather than blood, sweat, and tears being shed to obtain water for survival, the simplicity of kids play equipment brings water to the community. In practice, the high cost expense, required effort and relative difficulty of maintenance make the device impractical.
The vision: Children spin on a merry-go-round that powers a pump. Water is pumped out of the ground and into a tank for the community. Before the invention of PlayPump, many children in South Africa had never used playground equipment and many people didn't have a sustainable water source nearby. In this thinking, it's like killing two birds with one stone, and this has been a very appealing image that gained much support, early on. PlayPumps have also been installed in other sub-Saharan parts of Africa.
More recently, critiques of the PlayPump have become more frequent, focusing on its high cost, difficulty of maintenance (and consequent long periods without the ability to use the water source), and alleged lack of use due to the harder work required to pump water.
In South Africa around five million people lack access to clean water in their communities. In the 1800s Europeans and others migrated to South Africa and planted invasive non-native plants because they wanted to create forests similar to the ones from their homeland. There are now over 160 species of invasive plants that rape the land of billions of gallons of water. In addition, with the continuous growth of South Africa's population, the need for water has greatly increased.
A retired advertising executive by the name of Trevor Fields invented the PlayPump system. He developed the idea after watching mostly females of households in South Africa spending long periods of the day collecting and carrying water. They had to hike far to get to boreholes with water and most of the time they were using contaminated hand-pumps. After they pumped the water, they had to take strenuous walks through bushes carrying up to 40 gallons of water in a bucket at a time. Fields knew that there had to be a better way of obtaining water that wouldn't take as much time and energy. He wanted the households to have a sustainable water source nearby them so they would have more time to accomplish other tasks and be with their children. With the PlayPump, not only do the women get more time to spend with their children, but they also get to watch their kids enjoy playing on the merry-go-round, a privilege that they never had before. Fields solved two dilemmas with one solution. Fields' goal was to build thousands of PlayPump systems for people in need of water in South Africa and to expand to other countries in Africa. His goal was achieved and his idea revolutionized the way many people in Africa obtain their water.
 Costs and upkeep
One PlayPump system costs about $7,000 to install.[verification needed] In order to pay for the upkeep of the PlayPump systems, advertisements are put on the water towers like billboards. Money from advertisers pays for all the maintenance. Billboard spots are reserved for the national lovelife campaign to help educate children about HIV and AIDS before they become sexually active.
PlayPump was taken over by a nongovernmental organization called Water for People. They will continue to install the systems in communities lacking water sources. It has been stated that Water for People will work with the communities and modify the systems to fit the needs of the people.
- The PlayPump's very high cost.
- Difficulty of maintenance. Note that this is a lesson already learned many times in international development, notably in the UN decade on water, 1981-1990, which resulted in the village-level operation and maintenance concept.
- Lack of use due to the harder work required to pump water.
- Lower volume of output. A comparison reveals water discharge per hour (with 50 mm cylinder diameter and 20 m depth) to be around 300 litres for a PlayPump and 1000 litres for the cheaper and simpler AfriDev pump.
The PlayPump has come under criticism for its concept and implementation. A notable example is a series of blog posts in 2010 by Owen Scott - 6 posts:
- The Playpump - Raises difficulty of local repair, and asks whether moving a pump handle up and down really the bottleneck in water supply.
- The Playpump II - Extra work; interview with users.
- The Playpump III – “The challenge of good inquiry.” - The challenges for journalism. "Kids will play. Water will flow. But all of this is likely only happening because you are there. And if you can’t ask the right questions, or if you are travelling with a guide who has a vested interest in the technology (e.g. an NGO worker who installs Playpumps), then you will never know the difference."
- The Playpump IV – Playpump vs. AfriDev - Two pumps go head to head. How much water can each pump for a given amount of work? An athletic young local man provides the physical effort.
- The Playpump V – Response to Recent Publicity - The importance of cost-benefit analysis; and "the triumph of rich-country whimsy over poor-country relevance."
- The Playpump – A Review from Teachers - interviews with teachers in the field.
- Southern Africa: Troubled Water, Frontline, PBS.org, June 29, 2010. Synopsis and video.
- An Evaluation of the PlayPump® Water System as an Appropriate Technology for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programmes, October 2007, UNICEF report, never officially released.
- Mission Report on the Evaluation of the PlayPumps installed in Mozambique, Ana Lucia Obiols and Karl Erpf, RWSN, 08 to 29 April 2008. Report commissioned by the Mozambique government, but not released.
- Some NGOs CAN adjust to Failure: The PlayPumps Story, Laura Freschi on the AidWatch blog, February 19, 2010. Looks for the silver lining, seeing PlayPumps as one solution in a portfolio.
- The painful acknowledgement of coming up short, The Case Foundation (supporter of PlayPumps International), May 04 2010.
 Wider concerns
The PlayPump raises concerns about:
- Journalism - appealing stories may be misleading.
- Donors - with many development professionals recognizing problems from the beginning, how did high profile donors go so far with this project? Did they not get appropriate advice?
- Admitting failure - why were reports not released and lessons not learned?
- How were past mistakes (notably the lack of local maintenance options) repeated for so long?
A real danger is in rejecting development work because of the perceived failure of one or more high tech "solutions". Such experiences among the public contribute to compassion fatigue. It is wise to remember the simpler, less "newsworthy" solutions that continue to work and improve people's lives. Well designed handpumps and treadle pumps are excellent examples in the area of water supply.
 Notes and references
- ↑ Mission Report on the Evaluation of the PlayPumps installed in Mozambique, Ana Lucia Obiols and Karl Erpf, RWSN, 08 to 29 April 2008. Report commissioned by the Mozambique government, but not released.
 See also
- Original PlayPump animation location:http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_adU-pJYBj5c/Rgtwjj2BYQI/AAAAAAAAAAM/0PU6sr1m6Ic/s320/animated_illustration2b.gif&imgrefurl=http://confusedramblings.blogspot.com/&usg=__kXyp8nKjENCMA_lQubKg0rdHlMQ=&h=142&w=207&sz=9&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=9lmyR3AE2Z3shM:&tbnh=113&tbnw=165&ei=fl9rTdeaDJC2sAOy5-SoBA&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dplaypump%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1280%26bih%3D580%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=7486&oei=fl9rTdeaDJC2sAOy5-SoBA&page=1&ndsp=19&ved=1t:429,r:15,s:0&tx=100&ty=7