This project builds PlayPump® water pumping systems (or a child’s merry-go-round) that use a South African-designed patented system to enable borehole water to be pumped via an underground pump and stored in an elevated sealed water storage tank; the idea is that, when children play on the roundabout (merry-go-round), the mechanism pumps water from the borehole into the water storage tank at a rate of up to 1,400 litres per hour. The water storage tanks also carry powerful educational and public health messages and advertising for the local community. The goal is to raise awareness while enabling local families to benefit from clean, accessible drinking water, thereby improving water and sanitation. The hope is that this system can save vulnerable community members, such as woman and children, time spent collecting and carrying water.
Communication Strategies: 

This programme draws on the energetic participation of children in a fun, playful activity - entertainment on merry-go-rounds - to enable marginalised, rural communities to create and sustain their own self-sustaining water systems, which the organisers claim are more cost-effective than other manual systems. The simple PlayPump® system, installed above wells in rural villages (often near primary schools), harness the power of children at play to pump water to a sealed water storage holding tank which provides a centralised, free water collection point accessible by community members.

In addition to producing water, this project is designed to raise awareness and spur discussion by communicating educational and public health messages. The tower housing the water storage tank features four billboards, one per side of the tank; two sides are used for educational and health messages and the other two are rented out for commercial messages. One example of a health campaign featured is the LoveLife National HIV/AIDS Prevention Campaign for South African youth in rural areas. As the man who developed the project comments, "Talking about matters of a sexual nature is very taboo in African culture,” adding that the goal of the PlayPump® system advertising is to get young people to talk about issues related to sexuality, their bodies, relationships, and measures they can take to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Included in the ads is a toll-free, 24-hour help line through which callers can get advice from trained counselors. Other messages highlight issues such as cholera and malaria prevention, learning the alphabet, good hygiene, road safety, and water-saving methods. Revenue from this and other advertising is intended to enable the ongoing maintenance and self-sustainability of each PlayPump® water pumping system.

Along these lines, as part of their own businesses, several small entrepreneurs have been selected to install, service and maintain the installations and flight new advertising messages periodically on the advertising boards. Although these small businesses are separate entities, they receive training to develop the necessary marketing skills.

Development Issues: 

Environment, Health, Children.

Key Points: 

The PlayPump® system initiative was started in 1996 by a group of socially conscious South African businessmen. In 1997, a private/public partnership was set up with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, South Africa to assist the Department in its commitment to deliver water to all of South Africa by 2008.

The clean water provided by the PlayPump® system is designed to save women and girls in the community the hardship of having to fetch and carry water from a stream or dam, which may be several hours' walk away. Another purpose is to improve the health of the community by reducing or eliminating the threat of water-borne diseases such as cholera and bilharzia. The PlayPump® system also enables the children in the community to spend more time at school by freeing up their time that would otherwise have been spent collecting water. Organisers claim that school attendance is also improved by reducing the number of sick days taken.

The organisers estimate that each PlayPump® water pumping system. installed directly benefits approximately 500 rural families, each consisting of (a conservative estimate of) 5 family members, costing an estimated $6 per head. This equates to about 2000 people whose lives may be improved by each PlayPump installation donated.

In 2000, the PlayPump® system initiative was recognised by the World Bank as "one of the world's most innovative designs capable of providing self sustainable free clean water to poor communities, as well as being an effective delivery system for social messages." PlayPumps International has expanded its operations in South Africa and has initiated entry into Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia. Expansion will continue in the aforementioned countries and pilot projects will be commenced in Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Partner Text: 

Department of Water Affairs & Forestry, South Africa. Funding provided by the World Bank, the Kaiser Family Foundation, The Case Foundation, the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), The ONE Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the MCJ Foundation.


Email from Trevor Field to Soul Beat Africa and The Communication Initiative on June 20 2005 and February 20 2008; World Bank website; email from Daniela Ravetto to The Communication Initiative, September 1 2006; and email from Sandra Hayes, February 21 2008.