The conventional handpump is the most popular technology choice for improved potable water supplies in rural sub-Saharan Africa. To date, however, it has failed to deliver satisfactory levels of sustainability, largely due to inadequate maintenance capacity. An alternative option to standardised imported handpumps is the locally manufactured rope-pump, which is considerably cheaper and easier to maintain but has been rejected in the past due to fears of impaired water quality. This paper presents the key aspects of a study in northern Ghana which compared the performance of rope-pumps with that of conventional handpumps, to determine whether or not the rope-pump provides a viable alternative for community water supplies across the sub-continent. User interviews, sanitary surveys, water quality analyses and technical performance measurements were used to develop a comparative performance analysis for the two pump types. The findings of the study indicated that the rope-pump out-performed the conventional handpump on the majority of counts and that, contrary to widespread perceptions, there was no significant difference between pump types with respect to the impact on microbiological water quality. Consequently, the rope-pump provides a significant technological opportunity to improve water supply sustainability in Africa.