It’s been a very busy 10 days. In five days of field work we completed 32 water point surveys in six gram panchayats (an administrative area akin to a county), interviewed two NGO partners of Water For People, four Jalabandhus (hand pump mechanics), a part supply shop, and we’ve peppered the Water For People staff with endless questions (they can’t escape us on the long drives each day).
Today we presented our primary findings and recommendations to the Water For People-India staff in their Kolkata office. We were in the field for five days, and the last two days we’ve been in the office working on the study report and building the presentation. This is always a frantic part of the trip (this is my sixth time at this) because of the huge volume of information that must be assimilated and morphed into something meaningful. The tricky bit is to find new ideas using our technical backgrounds, and the “third party” perspective that we bring to these assignments. This can be really hard to do given the vastly different culture(s) and language barriers that can complicate the communication of subtleties, and the fact that the local staff and partners know the issues, people, and history so thoroughly. We’re constantly playing catch-up. But this is part of the fun of it all for me and (I hope) the other volunteers. Also, each different assignment volunteer team’s diverse mix of skills will usually bring a bit of magic into the mix, and it’s always fun to see what these differing perspectives produce.
A lucky find on our way to a water point interview: a worker applies the final touches to a new pump platform before the roof cover is added at a Water For People-supported hand pump. Water For People ensures that pump platforms are raised (to avoid inundation in the annual rains), have ramps, proper drainage, and covers.
So – back in the office after field days, we downloaded the survey data that we collected from the automated android-based FLOW data collection system, typed up interview discussions, produced some mapping and spatial analysis with GIS, sorted through photos, generated statistics, and wrote a blog entry or three.
Part of our delivered presentation – green dots are water points run by user committees, which result in lower pump down-times overall than water points without user committees (orange dots).
This trip is all about reducing hand-pump down-time (duration and frequency). As we talked to more and more people, it became apparent that both the quality and availability of spare parts are key factors in the in downtime. Even though there are clear long-term savings by using better-quality parts, communities always choose lower quality parts because they are cheaper in the moment. But those parts wear out much sooner than better-quality parts, and the pumps break down more often, limiting the availability of water, and burdening other pumps in the areas as people go to other sources for their water.
Since spare parts became important in the equation, we scheduled an interview with a local plumber and owner of a parts shop to better understand the part supply chain, and quality issues. That was extremely helpful. The quality and longevity of parts is a new bit of insight – so there’s a little bit of that magic I mentioned.
Spare tube well parts inside the TATA Pipe shop, owned by Mr. Yamin Mandal.
A demonstration of the parts needed to convert a standard PHE6 hand pump head into a “temple pump”: the simple and low-cost valve assembly of the PHE6 is replaced with the robust Mark II pump cylinder (shown beside the pump). The conversion, which costs approximately INR 18,000 (USD 310), will pull water from double the depth (50 to 60 ft) relative to the standard PHE6 pump (30 ft).
Huge thanks to the India office staff, who guided us and put their other work aside to do this study with us.. You were magnificent hosts!