Water Well Project in Africa

What set out as a really good idea slowed to a snail’s pace when the reality of it set in. The Cost of this idea has lost its attraction in a place where it’s really needed. The idea was to install a fun way of getting access to clean water in a country that’s desperate for it. What is the Water Well Project In Africa called?

Roundabout PlayPump is a water well that uses energy created by children playing to operate the pump that’s made by a South African company Roundabout Outdoor. It operates in a similar way to a windmill-driven water pump. An exciting idea that has lost its appeal because of maintenance cost reasons.

The PlayPump received heavy publicity and funding when first introduced throughout the country, but has since been criticized for being too expensive, too complex to maintain or repair in low-resource settings, too reliant on child labor, and overall less effective than traditional handpumps.

African Water Pump

Schools were without fresh drinking water and many cases of contaminated Wells littered the countryside which made the children and older people sick from drinking from them. There was no way of knowing that the Water from the Wells was poisoned. These Rural Communities have no Municipal Water systems and Government Standards that other people have in other Countries.

Roundabout Water Solutions which has made an agreement with the South African Water District and other Governments located in that area of the Country has supplied the Communities with an alternative way to pump clean safe drinking water from the ground with a reliable Merry-go-round water pump called the Roundabout PlayPump.

Over 2.5 Billion people in the world lack improved sanitation facilities and over 800 million drink from unsafe sources as in the case of South Africa. These problems create poverty, diminished opportunities, and lack of education along with known sickness that is the result of polluted drinking water.

Poor drinking water, bad hygiene, and decent sanitation facilities hamper girls, especially for a good education. Girls and young women spend a big part of the day fetching water for their communities. That is another reason why the Roundabout PlayPumps are being installed around the School that gives the opportunity for the water to be in reach of the community and the children whose job it is to bring it home by the bucket full.


Roundabout Playpump


Trevor Field, a retired advertising executive, had done very well for himself and was interested in giving his time and money back. He always knew of the problems with the polluted boreholes which are Public’s Dug Wells and how the Women and young girls had to go through this daily struggle just to keep their homes and schools supplied with fresh water to drink. He dreamt of changing this.

He befriended a man Ronnie Stuiver who was a Borehole Driller at a County Fair in South Africa and who had invented a new way of pumping water from deep wells it was called “Play Pump”  It was a children’s merry-go-round that pumps clean, safe drinking water from a deep borehole every time the children start to spin it pumps the water into an above ground tank.

The whole operation takes a few hours to install and can last for years. The World Bank recognized it as one of the best new grassroots ideas in a Century. Fields who were involved in the Agriculture business we’re able to license the product and had the first two systems installed in KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa in 1994.

The PlayPump received huge acceptance and media attention. Nelson Mandela attended one of the ceremonies at a School that had a PlayPump installed. At a 2006 Clinton Global Initiative ceremony donors pledged up to 16.4 million dollars to get the projects underway and to install these pumps across the Country.

By the year 2008 more than 1000 pumps had been installed and Fields set a bigger goal of installing more than 4000 more in the future.

In 2009 however PlayPumps International turned over its inventory of PlayPumps to Water For The People. They stopped installing the Pumps and concentrated on the maintenance of those existing sites.


How Much Does the PlayPump Cost

The Cost of The Roundabout PlayPump- $7000.00
  • The cost included finding a suitable site. A representative from the organization is sent out to the School or Community to explain what the PlayPump is and how it works and whether they want one in their Community.
  • Boreholes Testings are done onsite along with testing water at a recognized Laboratory to test for chemical and Bacteriological Contaminants.
  • A Geo-Hydrologist oversees and confirms that the water is fit for human consumption. These costs are factored into the price.
  • The Cost and Manufacture of the Equipment that is necessary to perform the job. This includes the tank stand, storage tank, and the Roundabout with transport to the location site.
  • Installation of the Pump and Tank by trained installers.
  • The Hand-Pump that is permanently placed and used at the site.


Maintenance of The Roundabout PlayPump

The Pump is maintained by the Organization with no cost to the school or the community. Social-economic Development Initiatives and Corporate Donors sponsor the maintenance of the PlayPumps. Using the Billboards Companies can contribute or make donations that will cover the maintenance cost. The Pumps are scheduled between 18 -24 months regardless of the maintenance that is needed or not. They have only two working parts as earlier mentioned and are made of tough and sturdy material.

PlayPumps attempt to bring the play to under-resourced parts of South Africa by combining it with opportunities for better access to clean and hygienic sources of water. The long-term function and repairs of the models depend on the access of the Pumps themselves.

These Roundabout Pumps are located in isolated parts of the Country where weather affects travel and maintaining them. According to the Company, this is the reason that they are sometimes overlooked. The Company depends on support from volunteers. In the past few years, the amount of volunteers has dwindled. The continued maintenance of the Pumps is needed more than ever now 20 years after they were installed.


The Problems Of The Roundabout PlayPump


This very Popular project was endorsed by the biggest richest people in the world. It made believers out of many people who had high expectations for this humanitarian solution to a growing world problem called Water Scarcity. The PlayPump’s made promises of essential work accomplished through children’s play and a self-sustaining cost.

It had an advertising-funded maintenance system that was extremely attractive to the worldwide press and to funders, and images of the system proved remarkably effective in attracting support for the project internationally by popular people all around the globe.

After winning a large money award from the World Bank the owner’s dreams started to be realized. The world’s press wrote about it and the Clintons talked about it. Bill Clinton talked about it an Editorial in the NY Times. Former First Lady Laura Bush also talked about it and joined in the popular Humanitarian venture.

A UK Company called Global Ethics even bottled water and sold it for contributions of course.  Other organizations like USAID and The Case Foundation and the President’s Plan For Aids Relief Brought In the Money. The United States made a commitment of 60 million dollars.

But soon after it was put into place the problems started. The intention of the PlayPump and how it really functions on-site are two different things. It was portrayed as a wonderful functional operational mechanism. Unfortunately what people found is that it doesn’t really work on the ground.

Although the children’s reaction to it was excitement at the beginning.  that excitement wore off and once the children stop playing on the merry-go-round, the water stopped. The adults meaning the women who hauled the bucket loads of hand-pumped water before the PlayPump and really the whole reason that Trevor Field envisions his dream for a better Africa made things somewhat worse for them. Because now they would have to crank the Roundabout to fill the Tank, pump the water and then carry the buckets back.

It turns out it takes more energy and strength to turn the Roundabout and is less efficient than a regular hand pump. There is more The adults that are stuck with this necessity have to apply enough pressure to pump the Well water to the 6-meter high elevation. Fill the Elevated Tank before they get the water access.

Another problem was that were not enough advertisers who wanted to rent space on the water towers that advertised to the poorer people that occupied the Communities. This affected the maintenance of the PlayPumps designs cost expectations were dependent on the advertisers paying fees and those fees paying for the upkeep of the sites.

Some people realized this was a kind of naïve thinking that people on the outside of this experience could understand these poor South African’s experiences no matter how good-intentioned it was and judging from the story it was.



According to the Sphere Project a Global Water Oraniztion  states that the recommended minimum daily water requirement is 15 litres per person which – based on the pump’s capabilities That would require children to be “playing” non-stop for 27 hours in every day to meet the 10 million figure. Under more reasonable assumptions, a Playpump could theoretically provide the bare minimum water requirements for about 200 people a day based on two hours’ constant “play” every day – considerably less than its claimed potential.

Other studies listed problems like the African water pump could not reach the minimum recommended water supply. Or elders who ended up having to fetch the water because the children wouldn’t do it were ashamed and embarrassed to be performing important life-sustaining jobs on a red and blue painted Merry-Go-Round.


What Is the Best Way to Filter Well Water


The Water Tank was found to be a hindrance and was never filled by any reports on the sites throughout the Country. Engineers who studied the Tanks said that when they turn the wheels on the Roundabouts they could hear a splash in the Tanks that were being tested which were approximately 20 ft. in height. This would indicate that all the Tanks they looked at were empty.

In some situations, no representatives were sent out to the communities that were picked for installation, despite that this it was a prerequisite for installation. The PlayPumps were put in any way without the permission of the members. This caused dissension. The people in the Communities felt less empowered which was the opposite result of what was supposed to happen with the Project. Some Communities replaced their PlayPumps back to the old-style hand-pumps to make a point.


The systems that started out at under 7000.00 dollars(6,500.00) to be exact in 2 years cost upwards of $14,000 dollars. In the original cost estimate, the Pumps were expected to be reduced in the following years and instead doubled.


In the latest edition of their Web site Welcome To Roundabout Water Solutions, PlayPumps thanks their donors for their ongoing support and donations. They have installed two more Pumps and successfully maintained another 65 previous sites. They talk about a site that was successfully upgraded at a Primary School which is very popular. They also admitted that the PlayPumps in some of the sites are now being operated by adults.

The idea was good and the reasons behind them were encouraging. Nearly 5 million people that are stretched across South Africa don’t have access to fresh drinking water. Women from Communities throughout the dry part of the Country would have to make half-day-long pilgrimages to collect drinking water from single Wells that are only available miles from their homes.


Well Water vs City Water Cost

JimGalloway Author/Editor




Objects in Development 

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