Worthington News

Prototype pump

Group seeks to deliver water, hope to developing countries

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Mark Heldreth, of Design Outreach, enlists the help of a Central African Republic native to demonstrate the first pump in a village there.

It was early December, and families gathered around a bright, shiny symbol of hope at the old Grace Brethren Church in Worthington.

No Christmas trees or twinkling stars were in sight, though. The object that is expected to bring hope of life and health to millions was a new prototype of a water pump for the people of the Central African Republic and other developing nations.

The pump was designed and built by a team of engineers and other professionals who pooled their efforts to solve some of the developing world's technical problems.

At simultaneous unveilings in Columbus and in Warsaw, Indiana -- homes of the co-founders of a firm called Design Outreach -- families and friends saw a glimpse of the pump designed to be more durable and to reach greater depths than pumps currently in use in outlying countries.

Columbus-area engineer Greg Bixler, chief executive of the nonprofit company, said 125,000 water pumps in developing nations are broken, leaving millions with no access to a clean, sustainable water source.

In Central Africa and other nations, women and children walk miles every day to carry water back to their families.

Bixler said he became aware of the needs of developing countries while on a mission trip. He contacted a nonprofit organization to ask how he and other engineers could help. That is when he learned the need for a water pump that does not break easily.

He formed a group of engineers, designers, technicians and philanthropists who are dedicated to helping solve some of the world's problems with "big impact" solutions.

For three years, they have worked on a prototype of what should be commercially available hand pumps that are designed to last and reach greater depths.

The first pump was installed near Bangui, Central Africa Republic, last year, and two are to be installed in the same vicinity in January 2013.

Andrew Parkhurst, a professor of engineering at Ohio State University, will be among the three men delivering the pumps. He said he is enthusiastic about the prototype.

"The technology is sound," he said. "This is the only method that works at this depth."

Another seven pumps should be installed in coming months as part of the testing program. After they are proven to work, enough could be installed to provide clean, healthy water to millions of people in remote countries.

Thus far, most of the cost has been covered by donated labor. Of the $308,000 needed to complete the building and testing, all but $39,000 has been collected or pledged, Bixler said.