Rope pump

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Rope pump on a borehole, made in a local workshop in Mozambique

The modern Rope pump is a highly efficient and low cost pump, it can be produced with local materials and can be truly operated and maintained at a village level. The basic design has a wheel with a continuous loop of rope with pistons that fit with a small clearance in the pump pipe. The low end of this pipe is at the bottom of the well. By turning the wheel the rope passes up through the PVC pump pipe and pushes the water up. At the top end of the pump pipe, the diameter increases and the water comes out via a Tee piece.

If produced and installed well, Rope pumps prove to be sustainable and now there are 120,000 of these pumps world wide used for communal and domestic water supply, irrigation and cattle watering. Modern models can pump from wells as deep as 35 m and compared to imported hand pumps, Rope pumps are three to five times cheaper. Good quality pumps can last for 20 years or more as is proven in Nicaragua where the first improved models that were installed in 1990 are still working. Rope pumps can be powered by hand, bicycle, motor, horse, or wind power.


The almost intuitive design is known by many names, including the paternoster (after the beaded prayer chain it resembles), Noria pump, liberation pump or chain-and-washer pump but all have the same pump principle. Evidence of this pump principle dates back as far as two thousand years, to feudal China 1. The earliest report of the design in the west is cited 2 as that illustrated by the Sienese early renaissance engineer, Tacolla, circa 1433 3, a copy of which is given in the figure to the right 4. In the 1970 and 80s the basic design was adapted by numerous individuals, the most prominent of which were R. van Tijen of Demotech, J. Haemhouts 5 6 and R. Lambert 7. They applied the simple design as a tool aimed at economic and social development. They took advantage of low cost and versatile modern plastics to produce the modern rope-pump design. They applied this pump as a homemade, low lift pump. However the early models did not really take off and a successful scaling up of the Rope pump only started in 1988 in Nicaragua where the pump was technically improved by Van Hemert of the organization SNV and Alberts of Bombas de mecate. They made it into a compact metal model fit for commercial sales, produced and sold by local private companies. V. Hemert and Alberts 8 Holtslag.

Rope Pump first illustrated in the west circa 1433 9

Suitable conditions

Horse Rope pump, powered by horses or donkeys. Pumps from wells to 65 m deep. Pump capacity 5 times more than a hand powered model. Used in Nicaragua. Photo: Henk Holtslag

A Rope pump can be used to draw water from large diameter hand dug wells of 3 meters to boreholes as small as 6 cm. One person can draw water up from 35 m deep, two persons can pump from 60 m deep (using a second crank) and if powered by an engine it can pump from 100 meters or more. A Rope pump can be driven by hand, bicycle, animals, wind or engines. If well made, a hand Rope pump delivers 35 litres / min from 10 meters depth and halve of that if the well is 20 metres deep. Rope Pumps can be very efficient but typically have an efficiencies of 65%, model equations of the rope pump confirm the best rope speed to around 1.2m/s and the piston spacing to be 1m. Hand pump models are most commonly used at depths less than 35m.

Some 70,000 Rope pumps are now in use in Nicaragua, 10,000 in countries like Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Bolivia. 30,000 in African countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and 6000 in Cambodia and India. In total, the Rope pump is used in over 25 countries.

The Rope pump is most suitable for single families, but is also often used for communities up to 20 families (150 people).

Advantages Disadvantages
- Simple, no “black box”

- Easy to maintain
- Easy to train on production, maintenance - Can be made locally by workshops
- Significantly (5 to 8 times) cheaper than imported piston pumps for the same depth
- Rotating movement, no dynamic force like in piston pumps
- Pump parts in the wells plastic and concrete (no corrosion)
- Rotating shaft, easy to power by bicycle, animals, windmills, electric motors or combustion engines
- Ideal to be used by one or two families in their own yard
- Fit for irrigation, therefore used as income generation
- If made well, one pump can supply up to 250 people as is the experience in Nicaragua, Tanzania, Malawi and other countries. However, suggested use is for maximum of 20 families (150 people)

- It is simple which is good but also leads to bad copying resulting in early break down and bad image

- Requires frequent maintenance like oiling the bushings, if not leads to early wearing out and breakage of pump handle
- A “blocking system” is needed on the handle to avoid return of the handle which can be dangerous, especially for children
- It cannot pump higher than the pump outlet
- Compared to piston pumps the Rope pump is semi-open at the top which in theory, can cause contamination of the well. (if well made this is hardly a problem in practice)
- The Rope pump splashes more than piston pumps.
- Not suitable for communities larger than 20 families.

Construction, operations and maintenance

Rope pump, An illustration of the pumping action of a rope pump. However, this drawing needs adaptation. The pipe diameter at and above the Tee piece should be larger than the pump pipe. This is essential for good functioning of the pump. Now most of the water will come out at the top!
Rope pump, (Victory model) on a hand-dug of 20 meters deep well, made in a local workshop in northern Ghana. Photo: Netherlands Water Partnership.

With deeper wells, smaller diameter pump pipes are needed, otherwise the pumping becomes too heavy. See manuals on websites of Practica Foundation, Connect International, and

Many different types of rope pump exist, powered by hand, bicycle, wind, horse, solar etc.

Similar to piston pumps, a cement slab and a good soak away are needed to avoid splash water and recontamination of the water in the well.


  • Pumping depth (Lift): 0 to 35 m
  • Cylinder diameter: (pump pipe) 32 mm for 1 to 10 metres deep, 25 mm for 10 to 20 metres deep and 19 mm for 20 to 35 metres deep
  • Pistons: Rubber or HD PE (plastic) pistons spaced at 1 m
  • Yield: (50 watt input) at a 10 m head the yield is 2 m³/hour. Model equations can be found here
  • Population/field area served: Max 150 people or irrigation of 0.1 hectare
  • Type of well: dug well of 3 metres to borehole of 6 to 20 cm diameter

The Rope pump can be made in any country since the design can be adapted to the materials that are locally available. After due training it can be produced, by small or medium metal companies or blacksmiths that have a welding machine and standard hand tools. Although simple does not mean easy. It is essential to build the pump with 10 basic design rules. (See FAQs). In general, training is needed for good quality in production and, as important, good installation.

The pump frame is made of galvanized pipes or mild steel. The handle is a galvanized steel pipe with metal bushings (there are also designs with ball bearings, or wooden bushings). The pulley wheel is made of the sides of a used car tire and mounted with clamps and spokes on the handle. The wheel should have a sharp 'v' shape to get a good traction on the rope. The ropes are made of Polyethylene, Polypropylene, or Polyamide fibers varying from Ø 4 to Ø 8 mm. Natural fibers are not suitable, as they will stretch when wet, and degrade too fast. The pistons are made of the side of the siude of a used car tire or injection molded HD polyethylene. The rising main are PVC pipes with wall thickness of 1.5 to 2 mm and diameters of 20 to 50 mm (depending on depth of the water level). The guide box is made of concrete (with a ceramic piece or small glass bottle as turning point), galvanized pipe or wood with a PVC turning point.


One of the main strengths of the Rope pump is that maintenance and repairs are relatively simple and can easily and genuinely be done at village level by local technicians. Because of the local production, spares are available and knowledge to do repairs. The most frequent repairs consist of replacing the rope and pistons and weekly oiling of the bushings. The installation and repairs of the pump part does not require special tools, and pump pipes are very light so no need for any lifting equipment.

Although easy and simple, it is important that users are instructed in why and how to maintain and repair their pump. Evaluations show that pumps (including Rope pumps) on communal wells have a tendency to fail for reasons like a lack of ownership and problems with generating funds for repairs and replacements. See example of Ghana, below. If Rope pumps are produced and installed properly (and if the users have ownership), 90% of Rope pumps remain operational, even after many years as is proven by pumps in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe Tanzania, Malawi and other countries. Compared to piston pumps the repairs of Rope pumps is simpler and cheaper, plus because of local production, spares are available.

Other Rope pump models

Besides hand powered Rope pumps there are models powered by Pedals, Horse, Wind, Electric motor or petrol engines. Common available petrol pumps are suction pumps for shallow wells down to 7 m. deep. Deeper wells require generator pump sets or long-shaft diesel pumps costing US$ 1000 or more.

Where there is electricity, submersible pumps can be used but these are relatively expensive and many small farmers do not have electricity. Motorized Rope pumps can pump from wells down to 60m 10 Similar to the Hand pump model, it can be produced in local workshops using engines that are common in the country. The cost of a Motor Rope pump is 600 US$. This is far cheaper than long-shaft diesel pumps or submersible pumps with the advantage that in case of emergency, the pump can be powered by hand. Similar to the hand powered model, maintenance and repairs are relatively easy. There are motorized Rope pumps in Niger, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.


  • The Hand Rope pumps cost between US$ 30-150 depending on model, location of production, and cost of materials and labour.
  • Cost of introduction: between US$ 10,000-30,000 per project, including 20 pumps, engineering and hands-on training.
  • Rural water programme: US$ 150,000-200,000 per project, including 1,000 pumps, start up of production facility and hands-on training.

Field experiences

Pedal Rope pump, bicycle model, produced and used in Nicaragua
Motor Rope pump, powered by a diesel motor, used for irrigation. Pumping from a 25m well. Photo: Netherlands Water Partnership.
Hand Rope pump used for irrigation in Zambia
Rope pump Cross section diagram of a Rope pump with a complete wheel cover, 95% of the Rope pumps have a small wheel cover to reduce cost and make maintenance easier. Also water quality of semi-covered Rope pumps is the same as completely closed Rope pumps.

Because of its low cost, the pump is also popular for Self Supply. A survey among 5,025 rural families in Nicaragua indicates that an Rope pump increases family income, even if used for domestic purposes only. Families with a pump on their well earn an average US$ 220 more per year more than families who use a rope and a bucket on their well. In Nicaragua pumps are now being produced commercially by some 10 workshops.

Different models of Rope pumps were introduced in Africa. This introduction has not always been successful as described above. In Ghana, 80% of the pumps did not work after one year and in Ethiopia, Uganda and Mozambique there were similar problems with pumps being installed for large communities. However, with the "right" models, the "right" user training and willingness of users to pay for repairs, up to 90% remain in operation also in Africa, as the Victory pump model in Ghana, the Elephant model in Zimbabwe and the SHIPO Model in Tanzania and Malawi prove. In 2013, Rope pumps were used in over 30 countries. Below are the experiences in several countries.


Some 70.000 rope pumps have been installed since 1988. The shift from imported piston pumps of $600 to locally produced rope pumps of $100 has doubled rural water supply in ten years, much faster than countries that applied imported hand Piston pumps. Users do the maintenance and over 95% of the Rope pumps remain in operation. The Rope pump has been adopted as the standard water pump by the government.

Some 80% of the Rope pumps in Nicaragua are used for one or a few families for self supply. The economic effect of family pumps is a total generated income of over 100 million US$ in the last 12 years. Families with a pump earn an average of 220 US$ more than families without a pump on their well (Investigation by CESADE/ICCO at 5015 families). The extra income is explained by the fact that as soon as families have a pump near the house, women save time, more water is used (so more hygiene) and water is used for animals, garden irrigation and reducing health related costs and generating extra income.


A Rope pump model called the Elephant Pump was introduced by the organisation Pump Aid in 1990. The main difference with other Rope pump models is the solid round concrete structure around the pump, to protect the well and to avoid splashing and recontamination. Now some 3,000 pumps serve 950,000 people and some 95% of the pumps are working. Many more pumps are planned to be installed in these countries before 2015 and if this can be realized, these pumps together will reach 1 million people. .


The first experiences with rope pumps in Ghana were discouraging. In a World Bank funded project, 80% did not function after one year because of lack of user involvement and production errors. In the year 2000 some 200 pumps were installed. After 1 year 80% of these pumps were defect. Major reasons were errors in construction and installation and lack of funds for follow up so there was no ownership created and hence a lack of maintenance. These problems caused a bad image of this pump type in Ghana and the government did not approve of this pump type. In other parts of Ghana other Rope pump models were installed Like the Victoria model produced in Bolgatanga and Pumping is life model on boreholes. Better quality and good community involvement resulted in much better results and most of the new model Rope pumps are working. The Rope pumps in northern Ghana were among others supported by Water Aid. The good results of the new pumps slowly improve the image of the Rope pump in Ghana again. After improvements some 1.600 pumps were installed.


Rope pumps were introduced here around 2006 by the Practica foundation and supported by organizations like IDE, JICA and Water Aid. During several years local metal workshops have been trained in production and model. However the pump became so popular that untrained workshops also started to produce and sell the pumps. By 2012, there were an estimated 10,000 Rope pumps installed in but often the pump and installation was of a poor quality without a good seal resulting water to leak back in the well and causing recontamination of the water.

In 2013 the government of Ethiopia decide to make a long term program to improve and standardize the Rope pumps and is doing this with funds from the Japanese aid organization JICA and technical support of the Dutch organization Meta.


Here the local organization SHIPO in Njombe (South Tanzania) introduced the Rope pump in 2006. With support of the Dutch organization Connect International and funds from the Dutch government and Aqua for All, a so-called SMART Centre started. This Centre demonstrates a range of low cost water technologies like manual drilling hand pumps, water tanks, household filters etc. and trains organizations and the local private sector in production, maintenance, business skills etc. The centre organizes trainings for organizations like Winrock, Msabi and others. The result after 6 years is some 20 local companies trained, over 4000 SHIPO model Rope pumps installed, 800 manual drilled boreholes and cost reduction for rural water points of 40 to 15US$/person. In the last 2 years, out of the 4000 Rope pumps, some 30% now is sold to private families who pay for the pump with cash or via small loans.

Malawi, Blantyre trials

Several rope pumps were introduced in order to provide a better alternative for the Afridev Community handpump, which is the standard handpump in Malawi. The Afridev is not popular due to many breakdowns and not available spare parts, especially in the more remote areas. However, the rope pumps also broke down many times, sometimes several times per month, due to the high number of users and was therefor not considered by the users as a good alternative for a community pump, although repairs were possible. Another disadvantage mentioned was that children found it difficult to pump and sometimes got hurt when the handle security break system was not functioning (in that case the handle turns back with a high speed due to the weight of the water in the riser pipe). The communities now prefer a more reliable handpump than the Afridev, with less need for spares.


As in Malawi, the Rope pump was seen as a viable alternative to the Afridev which is generally the official pump of choice. WaterAid had first introduced a bucket and windlass system in the Niassa province as an alternative due to the high failure rate of Afridev pumps, but the Mozambican government refused to accept these as official community water supplies. WaterAid, in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), UNICEF, CARE and the Government of Mozambique, therefore began a lengthy process of piloting a robust community rope pump, first relying on support from Bombas de Mecate in Nicaragua, but later adapting the design from Madagascar which is a pump model with a closed wheel cover. The new model meets a number of key well protection and water quality criteria set down by the development team. Three manufacturers were in operation in three provinces and through a process of skill sharing improvements have been made to the design resulting in a robust high quality model. A manufacturing standard has also been produced with the help of SKAT. After final stages of this process there was a final approval of the pump in 2011 as well as the licensing of the manufacturers by the Governments standards laboratory.

There are now more than 300 Rope pumps installed across three provinces (Niassa, Cabo Delgado and Zambezia) and in Niassa particularly WaterAid funded projects continues to offer communities a choice of either the Rope pump of the Afridev. The pumps were monitored twice per year in order to better understand the pumps sustainability. At this moment (July 2013) The trained manufacturers are not producing anymore and most of these pumps are defect. Reasons are as mentioned before, lack of ownership and payment for repairs and technical breakdowns because the number of people using the pumps was too large. Also the complete cover of the pump complicated the repairs.

Another organization ADPP in Itoculo (near Nampula ) trained workshops in the production of the so called SHIPO model of which there now are 4000 in Tanzania. Some 350 of these pumps are installed on hand dug or manual drilled tube wells and some 70% are working. At this moment (July 2013) this pump model is being produced in Monapo.

It was not considered by the users as a good community pump, although repairs were possible. Another disadvantage mentioned was that children found it difficult to pump (caused by too large of a pump pipe diameter) and sometimes got hurt when the handle security break system was not functioning. Due to lack of quality control the pumps did not have an anti-return system. This results in the handle turning back with a high speed due to the weight of the water in the riser pipe. In 2008, over 2000 simple Pole model Rope pumps for irrigation were installed near Blantyre made by the organization DAPP.

In 2012, a Water training centre (SMART Centre) at the Mzuzu University introduced the SHIPO model Rope pump. This centre, supported by Connect International, is now (in 2013) training local companies in manual well drilling and Rope pumps. A focus is on quality control via certification. After initial problems, now good quality pumps are produced and some 100 installed. Mzuzu Smart Centre. Apart from this initiative, PumpAid has also been active in the Chimoio province installing Elephant Pumps which are also rope pumps.

Please see the external links below for further information.

Burkina Faso

WaterAid in Burkina Faso is also currently developing a Rope pump model suitable to local conditions. This project has resulted in a renewed understanding across WaterAid of the need to ensure that Rope pumps destined for community water supplies require high quality manufacturing and installation techniques in order to improve their sustainability. WaterAid now intends to renew its efforts across the organization to improving the quality of rope pumps in countries where this is supported. A training course for manufacturers from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Zambia and Malawi was held in early 2010 as part of this process. A recent interesting development in Burkina Faso has been the redesign of the bottom guide box to include a non-return valve (foot valve) thereby ensuring that water is immediately available from the first turn of the pump handle. This is currently being piloted on a few pumps. Another organization, Winrock, started trainings in other local workshops and installed Rope pumps of the SHIPO model in communities up to 150 people in 2012 and 2013. Some 100 are installed at the end of 2013 and 98% are functioning.

Akvo RSR projects

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RSR Project 1349
Safe water
for Wajir

Manuals, videos and links


  • ERPF, K. (2006) Manufacturing Guidelines for the Production of Rope Pumps in Mozambique. Skat, Rural Water Supply Network, St Gallen, Switzerland English, Portuguese.


Visit our page of more than 15 Rope pump videos

External links

Rope pump used for rice paddy irrigation in Vietnam
Wind Rope pump used in Nicaragua, produced by AMEC


  1. Fraenkel, Peter, and Thake, Jeremy. Water Lifting Devices, A handbook for users and choosers, 3rd ed. UK, Rugby: Intermediate Technology Publications Ltd, 2006.
  2. Olsen, J. P. Greek & Roman Mechanical Water-Lifting Devices: The History of a Technology. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1984.
  3. Tacolla, Mariano. De Ingeineis, Liber Primus Leonis, Liber Secundis Draconis, Addenda. c. 1433, folio 80.
  4. Weisbaden, Ludwig, ed. et al. Facsimile of De Ingeineis, Liber Primus Leonis, Liber Secundis Draconis, Addenda [online]. Germany: Satz Und Druck, 1984. [April 2009]
  5. Sandiford, Peter, et al. The Nicaraguan Rope-pump. Waterlines, January 1993, Vol. 11 (3).
  7. Lambert, R. A. How to make a rope-and-washer pump. London: Intermediate Technology Design Group, 1990.
  8. Alberts, J. H. The rope-pump - an example of technology transfer. Waterlines, January 2004, Vol. 22 (3), 22-25.
  9. Weisbaden, Ludwig, ed. et al. Facsimile of De Ingeineis, Liber Primus Leonis, Liber Secundis Draconis, Addenda [online]. Germany: Satz Und Druck, 1984. [April 2009]
  10. Information on Motorized rope pumps from the Practica Foundation