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Resource details

Lessons learned from village level operation and maintenance (VLOM)

Author(s): Colin, Jeremy  |  Woodfield, Julie (ed)

Publisher: LSHTM | WEDC
Place of publication: London and Loughborough
Year: 1999

Series: WELL Studies in Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health Task 162
Collection(s): WELL


The term VLOM, was developed in the 1980s as a technological concept relating specifically to handpumps for rural water supply. Originally, VLOM was a design concept, relating to communal pumps, which was defined as an easily maintained, cost-effective, robust pump, manufactured in-country. The concept gradually broadened to cover the maintenance system needed to keep VLOM-type pumps in working order rather than their technological requirements. Despite this apparent move towards sustainability in rural water supply, VLOM designs proved to be unsustainable due to a lack of preventive maintenance and prohibitive capital and repair costs. The main causes of its failure were associated with either the handpumps themselves or the maintenance systems in place:

Problems with handpumps:

Handpumps were not subjected to adequate prior testing and there were problems related to both functionality and durability of design.

Some aspects of pump repair could not be undertaken at village level with the consequence that alternative traditional, unprotected water sources were used.

There were additional problems associated with in-country quality control, and high installation and maintenance costs.

Problems with maintenance systems can be traced back to three key assumptions:

The user community will be able and willing to maintain communal handpumps.
Experience shows that this may not be the case for reasons such as the refusal of communities to take ownership of their pump, a lack of basic technical skills and poor project design and maintenance.

Government will be able to provide an enabling environment to support VLOM.
There is little evidence of governments facilitating VLOM effectively on their own once the external support agency hands over support of it to them.

Communal handpumps will be able to meet most rural water supply needs.
As the VLOM concept gained currency, many projects opted for communal handpumps on the assumption that this was the best option for the community, although in practice, many communities have proved unable or unwilling to support communal handpumps. Other options preferred by the community may be more sustainable.

There is now considerable doubt that VLOM is possible and it is felt that this concept should be supplemented by other available technologies. External financial support is needed for the purchase, maintenance and repair of pumps. However, there have been a number of positive outcomes from VLOM, as it helped develop the concept of community management; it showed that a flexible approach to service delivery is necessary; and it highlighted the benefits of technology standardisation. Perhaps the greatest lesson is that there are no "off-the-shelf" solutions which can bypass the need for effective government institutions for community support. Where this is not forthcoming, sustainability will always be in doubt.

Hand pumps  |  Lessons  |  Maintenance  |  Operation  |  VLOM