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Progressives: We hate child labor for our kids, but we love it for kids in the Third World

July 28, 2015

My latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

A PlayPump in Africa: Putting kids to work instead of fossil fuels

I’ve been reading about the rise and fall of the “PlayPump.” The idea, hatched by a high-minded NGO (natch!), was that the perfect way to provide clean water for impoverished sub-Saharan villages would be to set up a children’s merry-go-round attached to a pump that would move water from an underground aquifer to an above-ground tank that the village women could draw from. Perfect! No nasty real energy source for the pump such as, um, electricity. Fossil fuels! Global warming! We can’t have that.

So the little tykes would run the pump instead, merrily pushing themselves round and round just for fun, and voila! Water for the whole village!

“The donations gushed in. In 2006, the U.S. government and two major foundations pledged $16.4 million in a public ceremony emceed by Bill Clinton and Laura Bush. The technology was touted by the World Bank and made a cameo in America’s 2007 Water for the Poor Act. Jay-Z personally pledged $400,000. PlayPump set the goal of installing 4,000 pumps in Africa by 2010. ‘That would mean clean drinking water for some ten million people,’ a ‘Frontline’ reporter announced.”

But no one at the carbon-phobic nonprofit ever thought to test the idea on real children before plunking about 1,500 of the PlayPumps in African villages whether the residents wanted them or not. No one ever considered, for example, the fact that children get bored with doing the same kind of play over and over, especially when it actually isn’t play at all but more like those primitive olive presses operated by a blinders-wearing donkey on a rope trudging in a circle.

“By 2007, less than two years after the grants came in, it was already clear these aspirations weren’t going to be met. A UNICEF report found pumps abandoned, broken, unmaintained. Of the more than 1,500 pumps that had been installed with the initial burst of grant money in Zambia, one-quarter already needed repair….

“In 2010, ‘Frontline’ returned to the schools where they had filmed children laughing on the merry-go-rounds, splashing each other with water. They discovered pumps rusting, billboards unsold, women stooping to turn the wheel in pairs. Many of the villages hadn’t even been asked if they wanted a PlayPump, they just got one, sometimes replacing the handpumps they already had. In one community, adults were paying children to operate the pump.”

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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