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On strokes and leaks, or how to assess functionality and service levels of handpumps

By: Marieke Adank, programme officer at IRC

The Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) in Ghana is developing a framework for assessing and monitoring water services. In this, it will monitor the extent to which service levels are met, as well as the performance of water service providers and service authorities as per nationally set standards and guidelines. In 2010 a draft of a framework was shared and discussed by sector stakeholders in the National Level Learning Alliance meeting]. The resulting  draft framework  was tested in three districts in Volta, Northern and Brong Ahafo region and applied to collect baseline data in an additional 8 districts in Northern Region. Based on the feedback of this assessment, CWSA is currently revising the framework. A big point of discussion in the review is how to assess functionality of handpumps, and how to deal with the quantities of water provided by these pumps. 

Defining functionality of hand pumps

In the first draft of the framework, handpump functionality was assessed based on the stroke and leakage test. Stroke test results indicate whether or not a handpump can be used to fill a 20 litre bucket within a certain number of strokes. For the leakage test, pumping is resumed after a 5 minute rest period, after the stroke test. If water flows within 5 strokes, the handpump passes the leakage test.

In order to simplify the functionality assessment and minimize the number of tests, the revised monitoring framework suggests to only use the ‘5-stroke’test, whereby:

  • A handpump is classified as functional, when water starts flowing in 5 strokes or less
  • A handpump is classified as partially functional when water starts flowing but after more than 5 strokes of the handle of the pump
  • A non-functional handpump is defined as water does not start flowing at all.

So how do functionality figures using this new indicator compare to the ones using the old indicator, based on the stroke and leakage test? Figure 1 shows the baseline data from handpumps from the 3 pilot districts and the 8 districts in Northern Region. The left bar shows functionality data, using the stroke and leakage test, while the right bar presents the functionality data, using the ‘5-stroke test’.  More than 90% of the handpumps  that were classified as ‘partially functional’, passing either the stroke or leakage test, are now classified as fully functional. This indicates that it was generally the stroke test that was limiting handpumps functionality status under the old definition.  Handpumps that did not meet the leakage nor the stroke test, are now classified as ‘partially functional’, as they do not pass the 5-stroke test.

The new way of determining handpump functionality has the advantage of being simpler. The disadvantage of not considering the stroke test, is that some facilities that are classified ‘functional’, are providing such small quantities, that they can hardly be considered providing a basic level of service. If that were true, it should be reflected in the water quantity, and it might be interesting to explore the possibility of including the stroke test as an indicator for water quantity, as discussed below.


Figure 1: Functionality (left: using stroke and leakage test; right: using ‘5-stroke’ test)

Including quantity of water used into the level of service provided?

A related point, is whether quantities of water USE should be incorporated in the level of the provided service. It is often argued that this is an indication of the level of service ACCESSED by users, rather an indicator of the level of service PROVIDED to users. Both are important, and it could be useful to assess them separately.

There are good arguments for differentiating between the level of service provided and the service used. An agency, like CWSA, is mainly interested in monitoring whether the facilities implemented under its National Community Water and Sanitation Programme, are providing reliable and accessible water services of adequate quality and quantity. Whether or not people are then actually accessing and using the service, is of secondary interest. Also getting reliable data on water use from handpumps is not easy.

What if we take water quantity USE out of the service level assessment? When not considering water use quantity, the proportion of handpumps that meet the benchmarks on all service level sub-indicators is only marginally higher then when taking water use into account, as show in figure 2.


Figure 2: Service levels, with and without taking into account water use quantity and stroke test results

But leaving out water quantity completely, does not show the full picture of the level of water service provided. Do we have to look for a different parameter for assessing water quality, other than amount used? Could the stroke test be of help here?

The right hand bar in Figure 2 shows the proportion of handpumps at different service levels, with the stroke test as the water quantity sub-indicator. This shows a lower proportion of handpumps providing a basic level of service when the stroke test is included as a parameter of water quantity provided in the service level assessment.

However, should we not be concerned about the actual use of water services as well? After all, what good is providing a service, if it is not being used? Assessing and monitoring water use can inform possible corrective actions, addressing the reason why people are using less water (e.g. health education and promotional activities in order to increase demand for water services; recommending longer opening hours, in order to minimize crowding, etc)? But how best to assess and monitor this? Through household surveys? Though better administration of water sold at the handpump?

Whichever way we assess it, the overall message stays the same: there is still a lot do in order to ensure basic levels of water services to all, which are used as they were intended. With the new monitoring framework, the sector will have access to data that can inform implementation, rehabilitation and direct support activities to contribute to this, and that can be used for monitoring progress over time (see also this movie, from min 11.38 onwards).

One comment on “On strokes and leaks, or how to assess functionality and service levels of handpumps

  1. […] flow often doesn’t take place fully, and the pump doesn’t get repaired as shown in the figures of unreliability of […]

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