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The Importance of a Simple Water Pump

Thousands of poor families in Asia and Africa use treadle pumps to water their crops -- and to improve their quality of life. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A simple water pump is helping to improve the lives of poor families in several Asian and African countries.

The treadle pump is based on a design developed in the nineteen seventies by Norwegian engineer Gunnar Barnes. It can be made locally. A group based in the United States, IDE, International Development Enterprises, has created programs in different countries.

The program in India won an Ashden Award in two thousand six for using local sources of energy to improve quality of life. Last year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded IDE twenty-seven million dollars. The money is to be used to expand small irrigation projects to the other half of India's twenty-eight states.

The treadle pump is easy to build from bamboo or other wood and two metal cylinders with pistons. The pistons go up and down as a person stands on lever devices -- treadles -- and uses a natural walking motion.

How many hours a day the pump needs to be operated depends on the season and how much water is needed for crops. It could be two hours a day. It could be seven hours a day.

Small children sometimes stand with their parents on the treadles. Everyone in the family can take turns operating the pump.

The Acumen Fund is a nonprofit group that invests in business projects to fight poverty. It studied the effects of treadle pumps in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh has three treadle pump manufacturers and more than seventy-three thousand pumps.

Acumen reported that families using them ate more vegetables, because they were able to grow more to eat and to sell. Many of these families also drank more milk, because they bought a cow with their added earnings. Men with treadle pumps often no longer have to leave the farm to seek extra work in cities.

The pumps can also improve education. Farmers often use their extra earnings to buy books for their children or to pay for schooling.

A farmer in Zambia said he hoped to have enough money in three years to buy a diesel-powered pump. Then he could grow more crops over a larger area.

But the world economic crisis has had an effect on some farmers. IDE executive director Zenia Tata says some who were able to buy diesel pumps now do not have enough money to buy fuel. So they are using their treadle pumps again.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Karen Leggett. Transcripts, MP3s and archives of our reports are at I’m Steve Ember.