Thursday, December 9, 2010

'The only way is up'

CONGRATULATIONS TO the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (AIDFI) and the villages in Negros Occidental where the ram pump was introduced and changed the lives of so many people in need of clean and continuous water supply.
AIDFI won first prize in this year’s BBC World Challenge, a global competition aimed at finding projects or small businesses from around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at a grassroots level. Now on its sixth year, World Challenge, its sponsors say, is about championing and rewarding projects and businesses which really make a difference. The sponsors are BBC World News and Newsweek, in association with Shell.
Last year Filipino kariton “street teacher” Efren Penaflorida was honored as a CNN hero, and now a Philippine entry won in the BBC challenge. These two giant global media networks now have the Philippines in their rosters of grassroots greats.

AIDFI’s ram pump was among 800 nominees from all over the world. From the 800 nominees 12 finalists and three winners were picked. The two runners-up were Peru and Guatemala. The Philippine entry received a $20,000 grant and the two other winners got $10,000 each.

The sponsors are pleased to say that this year’s 12 finalists again “raised the bar for sustainable enterprises that are putting something back into their communities. They are all boosting livelihoods and improving living standards without wrecking the environment.” The competition showcased finalists from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas and provided inspiration. Viewers were urged to choose one from the 12 finalists as their favorite.

As far as I’m concerned, the 12 finalists are all winners. You can view short video clips about the finalists by logging on to AIDFI’s Philippine entry is named “The only way is up” and is described thus:

“It’s baffling how some inventions fail to achieve a tipping point. The hydraulic ram pump—which has been around for a couple of centuries—falls into this category. AIDFI is determined to see the ram pump finally come into its own. Using the power of a river’s flow to literally push water uphill without any other energy input, it’s proving to be a boon for poor villagers living in mountainous regions.

“The ram pump can save both hours of back-breaking work carrying water and cash where expensive water pumps are replaced. AIDFI has introduced the ram pump to over 170 upland villages, and has plans to spread the benefits far and wide among poor communities.”

Two days ago the Inquirer had a front page story (“Prize-winning pump improve farmers’ lives”) on AIDFI’s winning entry written by Carla P. Gomez of the Inquirer Visayas Bureau. She interviewed residents of Tara village in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, where the Tara Hydraulic Pump System is in place. Tara is not the only place with AIDFI-installed ram pumps. AIDFI has installed some 170 pumps in many places.

I have known about the ram pump technology for many years but I have yet to see one in operation. Just before writing this piece, I ransacked my files to look for an article on ram pumps given to me by Dr. Juan Flavier many years ago. It was published in the Rural Reconstruction Review and it had instructions on how to construct it. Flavier, former health secretary and later, a senator, used to be the head of the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR). The ram pump was one of the so-called “approtech” that IIRR was trying to popularize in water-strapped communities.

The article written by IIRR volunteer James I. Stein said that a ram pump was installed in Batas, a village in Silang, Cavite. I wonder if it is still in operation.

The ram, Stein wrote, is a low-cost, low-maintenance, simple, continuous pump that is powered only by the force of the falling water that supplies it. All it needs to function is a source of water flowing at the rate of at least two gallons per minute and at least three feet of vertical fall from the water source to the ram. The ram converts the falling water—stream, river or any existing gravity flow system—into hydraulic energy which can then pump a part of that water up a vertical distance.

The ram Stein described has only two moving parts: the impulse valve and the delivery check valve, and is easy to maintain. Maintenance may consist of replacing the rubber valves three or four times a year and cleaning out the ram body twice a year. The ram can be assembled by villagers and only needs some grilling and welding. And since it uses no electricity or gas to pump water 24 hours a day, it costs almost nothing to operate.

The good news is that one can find designs with instructions on the Internet. And with AIDFI resurrecting the age-old technology and making it work (and now winning recognition), there should be no reason for upland communities to suffer. People no longer have to walk up and down rugged trails to fetch water from springs down below. Farmers need not be so dependent on rainfall. But, and there’s the but, communities need good, innovative leaders to get things going.

Correction: In my Nov. 18 column piece (“Books not bombs”) I greeted Muslims a happy Eid’l Adha, the feast of sacrifice. I said that Jews, Christians and Muslims consider Abraham a great prophet and fountainhead and that Eid’l Adha celebrates Abraham’s sacrifice of his and Sarah’s only son Isaac (as the Bible says). An incensed Muslim reader corrected me and said that Muslims believe it was not Isaac but Ishmael, Abraham’s older son with Hagar.