How a PlayPump system works.
FA info icon.svgAngle down icon.svgProject data
Status Designed
Instance of Water pump
OKH Manifest Download

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.

History[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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.

Future[edit | edit source]

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.

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Criticisms include:

  • 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.[1]

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:

Also see:

The PlayPumps makes an interesting case study of the "appropriateness" in appropriate technology.

Wider concerns[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

  1. 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[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]


External links[edit | edit source]

FA info icon.svgAngle down icon.svgPage data
Part of JMC330 International Mass Communication
Keywords water supply
SDG SDG06 Clean water and sanitation
Authors Chris Watkins, Dylan Treeman
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
Translations Korean
Related 1 subpages, 7 pages link here
Aliases Roundabout PlayPump
Impact 1,418 page views
Created February 23, 2011 by Dylan Treeman
Modified October 23, 2023 by Maintenance script
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.