PLAY PUMP: The Merry-Go-Round Water Pump!

Play pump, merry-go-round water pump, fresh water, water rights, water issues, playpump, PlayPump, Lusaka, Zambia, Design for the other 90%, humanitarian design, Regiment Basic Primary School, PlayPump International

It’s no secret that access to clean water is one of the most fundamental requirements for healthy individuals and thriving communities. The PlayPump system is bringing clean water into the hardest hit regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. There’s only one catch–users have to take a spin on the merry-go-round! The PlayPump has been installed in rural villages and primary schools where kids can easily access the fun, all the while pumping clean, potable water from underground up into a 660 gallon water tower above. A few hundred yards away, a spigot supplies fresh water for the whole community. The water is then used for drinking, cooking, sanitation and even growing vegetables.

Play pump, merry-go-round water pump, fresh water, water rights, water issues, playpump, PlayPump, Lusaka, Zambia, Design for the other 90%, humanitarian design, Regiment Basic Primary School, PlayPump International

PlayPumps come with 10 years of guaranteed maintenance supported by the advertising space on each water tank. Two of the four panels are sold to local advertisers promoting only products and services appropriate for primary school audiences. The other two panels are reserved for public service announcements. These provide information on hygiene, HIV, AIDS, and other health-related issues.

The implications of bringing fresh water into a community go far beyond drinking and sanitation. Many women and girls in rural Africa can walk for hours each day to fetch water passing through vulnerable and unsafe regions. A local pump allows them to stay home and care for younger children, work a job, attend school, grow vegetables or build a business. This opens up immense opportunities for women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve their greater potential. Fresh water also means that it doesn’t need to be boiled first, which drains precious resources such as gas or firewood and degrades the environment. Families with access to clean water are also much more able to achieve self-sufficiency by growing their own produce and maintaining local businesses. The PlayPump system has created dozens of jobs locally and continues to spawn social and economic development.

Play pump, merry-go-round water pump, fresh water, water rights, water issues, playpump, PlayPump, Lusaka, Zambia, Design for the other 90%, humanitarian design, Regiment Basic Primary School, PlayPump International

The PlayPump system has introduced positive play activities in places where many schools not only lacked clean water, but also toys or playgrounds. At Regiment Basic Primary School in Lusaka, Zambia a vegetable garden is now also in the works. Produce from the garden is sent home with the children most in need. In time, the school hopes to sell surplus vegetables in the community so they can provide books and supplies to students who can’t afford them. The PlayPump system is also a constant source of inspiration. After experiencing the PlayPump at his school, student Itumeleng Mpane remarked, “When I grow up I also want to invent clever things that will help my community.”

So far, over 1,000 PlayPumps have been instilled in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia. PlayPump International plans to bring that number up to 4,000 by 2010, supplying as many as 10 million people with fresh water and a fresh start.

+ PlayPumps International

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14 Responses to “PLAY PUMP: The Merry-Go-Round Water Pump!”

  1. Michele de Jesus says:

    Love to hear about ingenious designs that truly benefit communities in need. Kudos to the designer!

  2. Job Ebenezer says:

    It is so appropriate for less income countries. Do you have sketches or blueprints that NGO’s like us can purchase? Thank you. Job Ebenezer, Technology for the Poor.

  3. muthoka says:

    hi! this is a really briliant idea. i wish i could get more information on how it can be adopted in rural kenya and the costs involved. i come from one of the driest areas of eastern kenya. in my location there are two bore holes done by NGOs which are yet to get fitted with a functional pump. they are both located within easy reach of three prymary schools which means with this technology there will always be kids playing over the lunch hour and after school (4.30 pm). my interest in this issue stems from my academic back ground – ie. BA Land economics and MA in urban and regional planning. kindly get in touch on tel +254 752394 johnson muthoka

  4. SIPHO says:


  5. felix carles says:

    We have a local purification water service company (H2O Supply Systems, Inc. ) in the Republic of Panama. After looking at the Play Pump system inmmediately I could see the great support the system could provide for water related problems we encountered specially for far-away places where energy is non-existent.
    Is there any chances for contacting someone from the administration so we may further exchange ideas and probable facilitating services within our communities?

    Felix Carles


  6. BETT K BOAZ says:

    It is a beautiful design,I am a Kenyan student and considering to do the project on the same!

  7. BETT K BOAZ says:

    The design will help a great deal in providing water to those living in rural areas.

  8. Pat C. says:

    Story surprised me. They talk about ads “appropriate for children” and then mention other community service announcement re HIV & aids. How is that appropriate for children? My engineer rekatives said a follow0up story said they didn’t hold up well under use. Need redesign?

  9. Jeannie Lee says:

    I want to know how to sponser a play pump at a village in Zimbabwe. They have the well, just need the pump and water tower. Thanks,

  10. Alysia Ballinger says:

    Um, be careful with this model. There is currently a playpump where I am living in Malawi, it has worked maybe 1 month out of 7. We had it fixed a week ago and it is broken again. From what I saw, the pipes under the equipment are moving up and down with no support, causing them to become damaged. Also, why only 10 years of maintenance support, what does the village do after that? Is that sustainable for generations to come, which is the prupose here, right? Because it is installed by a contracting company, the village gets no local support from the water district, leaving them at the mercy of a company located out of the area for maintenance. Also, the number on the side of the water tower for “free maintenance” is a number that is out of service. Because of these issues, the village has had a major out break of diarrhea and villagers are digging for water in a near-by wetland. Research issues with playpumps, you’ll also be surprised at the outrageous cost of this equipment.

  11. Marizel says:

    This design looks awfully flimsy, and not that efficient. Someone should look into the design of the Pull-A-Way merry-go-round that was formerly built by GameTime many years ago. You sit on them and work a set of bars back and forth with your hands and feet to make it go. Very easy to propel, and some of them that weren’t destroyed to make playgrounds “safer” are 60+ years old and still working. I’ve collected some photos at if anyone is interested in seeing what it looked like.

  12. Ron debari says:

    Please provide cost for this product

  13. mholmes says:

    Hi We are a small charity based in Northern Ireland but working in Shashemene Ethiopia, and I wondered if you have any installations in Ethiopia. Also I was wondering about approximate costs involved in getting an installation up and running. We currently operate two schools in Ethiopia and are planning a new disability centre

  14. maagwi says:

    Not as well received as this article may incline. This isn’t the article I originally read, that article I can’t find, but it was alluded to that the kids didn’t like playing on it since it’s not free rotating like a real merry go round and that people would hook animals to it to try to get it to work. A lot of the people would prefer a simple cheaper hand pump. Great idea in theory and a lesson learned for better design.

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