Perhaps it’s time to do a review of the PlayPumps saga.
Originally designed by a South African, Trevor Field in 1999, and marketed as a Round-a-bout Outdoors pump, it was awarded a World Bank Marketplace award in 2000; it was then “adopted” by an American advertising group that renamed the new venture as PlayPumps. A World Bank published report (authored by Field himself) dated 2002 spoke in glowing terms of the device. The report is at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2002/11/2035462/south-africa-roundabout-outdoor-playpump
On 16th Feb, 2004, Amy Costello produced a feature on PlayPumps for airing on the USA Public Broadcasting System (PBS) through Frontline/World Rough Cut. Her video may be viewed at http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/10/south_africa_th.html
The report and virtually all of the ensuing comments were very positive indeed.
In 2006, US$ 16.4 million was provided to PlayPumps by USAID, The Case Foundation and the McJ organization, and the occasion was endorsed by the then First Lady of the USA, Mrs Laura Bush. The PlayPumps website was exceptionally well setup and a visit to it left the vast majority of people wondering why this ingenious solution to water supply problems had not been seen before. The claims of endorsement ranged far and wide and even included Kofi Annan, then the Secretary General of the United Nations though a very careful reading of his claim showed that he hadn’t actually endorsed PlayPumps but had made a general comment about water supplies in Africa. Nevertheless, his “claim” was left on the website as if it showed endorsement at the very highest levels.
At some stage soon after, UNICEF was requested by PlayPumps to fund a large number of PlayPumps for schools in the southern Africa region but they declined until an evaluation of the technology could be established by an independent study. As PlayPumps itself seemed not willing to participate in such a study, UNICEF, Zambia, undertook one on its own with assistance from others who had placed some PlayPumps in Zambia. The findings of that study dated October 2007 were very vigorously contested by the then CEO of PlayPumps, Ms Jill Rademacher. The report was never officially released but somehow found its way into a later Amy Costello review of PlayPumps for PBS. That copy is attached.
On Oct 16th, 2009, WASRAG (Water and Sanitation Rotary Action Group) copied a letter from WaterAid which indicated that they could no longer support PlayPumps. A copy of that letter is attached. Yet despite this advice, a significant number of Rotary Groups continue to send money for PlayPumps (true as of today, 24th July, 2013).
On 24th Nov, 2009, an article on PlayPumps appeared in The Guardian by Andrew Chambers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/24/africa-charity-water-pumps-roundabouts
which gives a good overview of the situation at that time. What is significant is that, by that time, it was widely known that the claims on the PlayPumps website were considerably over-enthusiastic but that nobody was willing to “tell the king he had no clothes on”. Maintenance which had been promoted as being “free” by being funded entirely from advertising revenue, failed to materialize. Requests for data on numbers of pumps installed, where, and their current status remained unanswered. No public audit of the use of the $ 16.4 million could be located.
Shortly thereafter, the PlayPumps website announced that it was no longer fundraising for new facilities, but simply for maintenance of existing installations. A little while later, it was announced that all remaining PlayPumps in stock had been handed over to “Water for People” which, curiously, seems to be the field arm of the Case Foundation, one of the original contributors of the $ 16.4 million. They were to be used as one of a number of technologies to provide water to communities, it was said.
By sometime in 2009, anyone trying to access the PlayPumps website was redirected to “Water for People”. Searches for “Ms Jill Rademacher” showed that she now had been appointed CEO of “Water for All”, an NGO which had been unknown hitherto. There, she was promoting another pump called “The Fun Pump” which bore a remarkable similarity to the PlayPump except that it incorporated a submersible pump (PV driven), which was undoubtedly considerably more expensive than the PlayPump. Reference to http://www.renewableenergyfocus.com/view/2612/solar-powered-fun-pump-provides-clean-water/
might lead one to suspect that the inflated claims of PlayPumps have simply moved on to another device. As of December, 2012, Ms Rademacher moved on to Arabella Associates in Washington DC as per the announcement at http://www.arabellaadvisors.com/about-us/our-people/management-team/jill-rademacher/
As her background was in psychology and education, she might now be rather better placed than she was with PlayPumps or FunPumps.
In February, 2010, a report was issued by AID WATCH as may be seen at http://aidwatchers.com/2010/02/some-ngos-can-adjust-to-failure-the-playpumps-story/
It is self explanatory.
Amy Costello on Rough Cut again, reported on June 29th, 2010, concerning an evaluation of PlayPumps undertaken by SKAT (The Swiss Centre for Appropriate Technology) at the request of DNA (Direcção Nacional de Águas of the Moçambican Government). In this video report, which was entitled “Troubled Water”, she makes a complete U-turn from her earlier feature on PlayPumps. Patently, in Moçambique, PlayPumps did not function as promised by that organization.
Without labouring the point further, we can see that PlayPumps were marketed as something that appeared to be too good to be true. Both the organizations of PlayPumps (USA and South Africa) have now ceased trading and the only person using the name is the original founder of Roundabout Pumps, Trevor Field. Management of PlayPumps has disappeared. No audit of the $ 16.4 million is available as far as can be determined. (If anyone has later information on this, please post on this website so that this statement can be corrected). Whistleblowers have pointed out the huge gulf between the claims by PlayPumps and the reality, yet their evidence seems to have made no difference to a small group who continue to raise funds for new facilities which include the One Foundation which appears to be managed by Global Ethical Limited. Can nobody do – and understand – simple arithmetic ?
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; and
He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense (John McCarthy, computer scientist)
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