News and Such
Hand Pump Downtime Study - West Bengal, India
Our volunteer team of three consisted of Jenny Tanphanich (from San Francisco), Richard Gannon (Australian, living in Delhi), and me (team leader, Los Angeles). And as usual we were supported by the very dedicated and wonderful India Water For People staff.
The final report has been submitted, and a number of our recommendations are being adopted. We addressed tariffs, water committees and incentivization, water table draw-down due to electric irrigation pumps, spare parts quality and related supply chains, preventive maintenance, local government contributions and involvement, and others. I should add that we gave our final presentation to the India office fully attired in local garb, thanks to the "local dress-ups" idea of Richard. Oh yes, my friends, we blend...
Back From Malawi
On the way back, I stopped to visit some good friends in DC, where one of them very kindly arranged for me to give a talk to her NASA colleagues who work in remote sensing and the SERVIR program. We really could have used some false-color imagery of the region while we were there. It helps the geologists locate major faults and water resources. I'm very hopeful we can integrate remote sensing data into the sort of work World Water Corps does for Water For People. The work continues...
SERVIR is a joint venture between NASA and USAID which provides satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to help developing nations improve their environmental decision making. (pilfered right from the NASA SERVIR website)
Back to Malawi - Groundwater Sourcing Study: June 21-July 5, 2013
Bodie, CA Workshop
May 31/13 - I went. I photographed inside buildings. I got eaten alive by no-seeums. Wow do those things itch after a week. But the images should be good. I have yet to process them, but they will start appearing on my site soon.
Livebetter Magazine - Sustainable Humanitarian Aid Articles are out!
Also, I collaborated with my CH2M HILL colleagues on an article about sustainable aid realated to a mobile pump mechanic program evaluation in West Bengal, India that I participated in earlier in 2012. Please check out the article. I also have a video of image from the West Bengal trip here, and on YouTube.
Photo Trip to Mono Lake and Bodie, CA.
Oct 5/12 - Bodie is magical, if not a bit eerie. I just returned from a weekend photographing in Bodie and the Mono Lake area. I'll be heading back again next year - I already have a new plan. Stay tuned for a cluster of Bodie interior shots, and Mono Lake imagery to be posted in the next week or two.
Please let me know your thoughts and ideas on what you see and read here. Images can be licensed as digital files or prints. Please contact me if you want to know more about any aspect of my work.
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!
Stepping into the hallway from my air-conditioned room at the hotel feels like walking into a hot sauna – and it’s only 6:00 AM. It’s supposed to get to 105 today (that's about 40C for my Canadian friends), and the humidity is, well, a “challenge”. This is the first day of our field work: we will be visiting several communities in Parthapratima Block of South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India. We will interview water point users, water committees, government officials, non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, and the Jalabandhus (hand pump mechanics). We are a World Water Corps volunteer team of three, and we are in India for 10 days to study how to reduce down-time of hand pumps in the area. We are being hosted and guided by the excellent Water For People staff from the India office, who will also be our translators..
On our first stop of the day we hope to visit a broken-down India Mark II hand pump at a school, and if we are very lucky, the Jalabandus we meet there will actually repair the pump so that we get a feel for what the Jalabandhus do. I also want to get some good photos and video of real pump repair work.
. . .
Looking back now at the end of the day, we were lucky indeed!. The mechanics replaced a broken chain in the pump; the chain came from the local market (30 km away), so while we waited, we used the time to interview the Jalabandhus about their ideas on issues surrounding hand pump down time. And I shot lots of photos and video of the whole process. GREAT first day! And yes, those guys were HOT in those vests in the open sun.
Three Jalabandhus (“Friends of Water” in Bengali) remove the head of a Mark II pump so that they can replace the broken chain that connects the pump handle to the pump cylinder.
The chain that broke on the pump above was in operation for less than one year. The air in the region is laden with salt, and the water can have relatively high saline levels too. Because no preventive maintenance (greasing of the chain, bearings and bolts) was done, the chain completely failed much sooner than it should have – the chain completely rusted through.
The interviews we do are key to understanding the subtleties of all the issues affecting why repairs to broken hand pumps may be delayed. Water is central to life, and in this region where Water For People has helped the communities achieve 100% potable water supply coverage (Everyone), we are helping them to achieve long-term success (Forever).
Dipa Biswas, Water For People Project Officer, translates during an interview between Mr. Sunirmal Das (the Jalabandhu) and World Water Corps volunteer, Richard Gannon.
We interviewed two Jalabandhus and water point committee members at three local hand pump locations today. Now that we have our survey approach tried and tested, and our first taste of doing work it very hot and humid conditions, we’re ready to do it all over again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day… I’m so grateful for the shower in my room.
A fresh-looking team of three World Water Corps volunteers with Swagato Mitra, Monitoring Evaluation and Public Relationship Officer for Water For People. Left to right: Jeff Friesen (volunteer team lead), Swagato Mitra, Jenny Tanphanich (volunteer), Richard Gannon (volunteer).
March through April, 2013:
Have you noticed that the word "sustainable" pops up everywhere these days? I don't think that word means what many people think it means. Mature and sustainable solutions do not require external aid or charity - they rely upon the knowledge, skills, and entrepreneurial creativeness of local people and organizations to maintain their momentum and success. That's why I support Water For People - they have succeeded when they are no longer needed.
The exhibition is over, but fear not good people - you can still find selected framed prints at:
Conveniently, the gallery is located right next to Café Aroma.
I hope I
This article is published in the October 2012 edition of Livebetter Magazine
All Photos © 2012 Jeff D. Friesen
Mrs. Biba suffers from chronic arsenic poisoning; the signs (thickened, darkened and scaling skin) are clearly visible on her hands. She has been drinking and cooking with arsenic-contaminated water for most of her 42 years in her home village in Ashoknagar, West Bengal, India. The local groundwater has high natural levels of arsenic, and her village is not served by the government supply system. Her community procures its water from the only local source of drinkable water: groundwater wells. In this same village, Mr. Swapan, a member of the village water committee, has lost his father, uncle and brother to arsenic poisoning. In fact, 28 people in this village have died between 1964 and 2006 from arsenic exposure, which can cause cancer, liver failure and other fatal conditions. Even the coconuts on the trees in this village contain concentrations of arsenic so high they can’t be consumed.
However, action has been taken to improve the villagers’ plight. A community arsenic filter was installed in 2006, and the village now has access to arsenic-free drinking water through a joint project between Water For People (a Denver, Colo.-based NGO), the Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESU) and the local water committee that maintains the filter and accompanying infrastructure.
Clean drinking water can break a cycle of illness, poverty and dependence for a family in the developing world. It can move them past the struggle to exist. It can free a woman (through reduced water-gathering time and better health) to learn and apply her skills in ways that give her, her family and community options and hope. It can enable children, especially girls, to attend school instead of missing classes because of water-borne illnesses, daily water duties or lack of a clean uniform. The men can stay healthy enough to work reliably instead of being laid up with bouts of giardia or diarrhea. In these ways and others, clean and accessible water, combined with good sanitation and hygiene practices, can provide options where few previously existed. A woman, a family, a community and a society can then rise above the patterns of life that leave them without choices and force them to depend on the benevolence of others. The greatest challenge, once this is achieved, is to maintain it indefinitely, thereby eliminating the recurring need for charitable intervention.
Solving water and wastewater (sewage) problems is a big part of what I do as a Civil Engineer. Engineering is the process of translating science into real world solutions. For example, finite element computer models become soaring structures that are safe and economical, and chemical and biological equations drive water treatment processes and systems designed to provide safe drinking water to millions of people, a small community or a school. Civil Engineering is all about providing essential infrastructure for a society. Think of roads, sewers, water supply, electricity distribution, large structures, flood forecasting and planning, and solid waste management. But seldom are problems addressed at the individual level in my line of work. I miss the human connection when dealing with design and planning work; individuals are lost in abstract aggregations of supply and demand populations.
The individual connection is real and immediate, however, when working to understand and to promote water, sanitation and hygiene solutions in communities and households in the developing world. Going door-to-door in remote impoverished communities to interview and to listen to women and men talk about their water, sanitation and hygiene practices and problems quickly dismantles any abstract separation between me and those I’m there to serve. Priorities of life become jarringly apparent and immediate when we sit and talk with families in need and hear their stories.
Sometimes the water quality at a remote water source is fine, but the quantity is inadequate. In a remote village in Nchalo, Chickwawa District, Malawi, women wait to fill their large containers from two thin threads of water (barely visible in the photo below) coming from taps in the community water kiosk. The women in this queue will wait two to three hours to fill their containers with one day’s supply of water. Add to that a walk of perhaps an hour, and it’s easy to see why girls miss school and why women can find it so hard to escape the cycle.
In the developing world, public infrastructure is often non-existent in the lives and experiences of the majority of the populations. Because of this, most people do not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sanitation (toilet facilities) and education about hygiene practices to minimize common waterborne and communicable diseases. Governments may be indifferent or may not have the resources or skills to build and to provide the needed services. Charitable organizations by the hundreds work hard, with varying degrees of success, to fill the gaps.
Despite the struggles of life in these places, I’m repeatedly struck by how easily the people smile and laugh, and offer gracious hospitality to strangers about whom they often have little understanding. What I believe they recognize instantly is what we have in common – that we, like them, are people with families we love, and that we need to eat, drink, work and get through the day just as they do. My experience is that we, with our western perceptions, initially see the opposite – we see what sets us apart: differences in clothing, material wealth, education, hygiene and access to services.
When we move past the differences on the surface, we can focus on the hope they often express in the future – generally through faith combined with tenacious resourcefulness. Sometimes, though, I see and hear frustration resulting from broken promises. One man in a Malawi community asked me (through a translator) what we were going to do for them and whether we were just going to promise (and then not deliver) more solutions like other foreigners had done before us.
Solutions to the often urgent needs for water seem deceptively simple. Often there aren’t enough hand pumps, or they are too far away from the individual homes. The traditional solution? Bore a well and put in a hand pump! This can be very appealing to all involved: The community is happy to have water it desperately needs; the contributing charity organization is addressing a real need; the donors have the satisfaction of seeing something quantifiable done with their contributions, and the pressure is off the government (at least temporarily). But this success is usually short-lived.
Here’s where the complexity surfaces. A single, unsupported hand pump doesn’t work in the long term, or in other words, the solution is not sustainable if it comes as charity and is not implemented and driven from within the community. There’s no sense of ownership by the community and no investment of work or money. With no community oversight of this new shared resource, no one takes responsibility for care and upkeep. When the pump fails – and it will fail – it sits in disrepair or is cannibalized for parts, awaiting another gift of charity. This perpetuates reliance on the charity model, which cannot be sustained. What happens when the charity stops? The clean water stops. I have witnessed the futile results of this process countless times. So what are these well-meaning benefactors doing wrong?
Short-term solutions often contribute to cycles we want to break. A pump hastily installed may not be deep enough to pull water from a cyclical water table, so the pump goes dry during the dry season. I have visited numerous pumps that produced enough water for the community but from the first day of operation the water was too saline to drink. Uncoordinated hand pump installations by the many aid organizations that operate in these countries may have only passive support from the local governments, thus leaving communities to fend for themselves when pumps no longer work. With no local parts supply chain and no community water committee to collect and manage repair and maintenance funds, purchase parts, ensure skilled repair mechanics and care for the facility, pumps fail in every way. We need a different model for long-term success.
A truly successful solution must consider what the community needs throughout a period of years and how funding and markets that enable continued operation can be sustained so charity inputs can be withdrawn and focused elsewhere. The oft-cited parable tells us to teach a man to fish for life rather than to give a fish for only one meal. I want to see communities lift themselves up and develop their own resources and skills so their continuing success comes from within, not from external charity. Of course, what I want doesn’t matter to these communities, but what I want echoes what we’ve heard from individuals and leaders in hundreds of communities in Rwanda, Malawi and West Bengal (the countries I’ve worked in). I’m not saying it’s easy or fast, but it works.
So how does a working solution evolve? I will summarize, in my own words, what Water For People does. I agree with their sustainable approach, which is why I’ve donated more than eight weeks of my time to leading and working on their in-country volunteer assignments. Although I am focusing on water, this approach can apply across all sectors.
The final measure of success is to remove charitable contributions all together and have the system sustain itself. Admittedly this can take years to succeed as trust and relationships are developed. Of course, once successes are achieved and local support systems are in place, recreating successes in adjacent communities becomes easier.
This long-term approach is a much harder sell for donors, but it is catching on. It’s entirely understandable that donors want to see something built with their funds in short order– something physical that does immediate good and relieves human suffering. But I believe that a sustainable, longer-term model in which a community ultimately sustains its own services will give the people we want to help, and us, the greatest possible success.
Jeff Friesen, a registered Professional Engineer in California and British Columbia, currently lives and works in Los Angeles for CH2M HILL. He is a Volunteer Leader with the World Water Corps, which is the volunteer arm of Water For People focused on technical and data gathering and support for in-country programs. Friesen has also organized and participated in many environmental clean-up events for various organizations in Los Angeles and Vancouver and was a wilderness guide in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. He is an avid, serious amateur photographer, and he is very grateful to be able to combine his engineering, photography, humanitarian, conservation, leadership and travel passions in these overseas assignments. Friesen can be reached at [email protected]. Please visit his website at www.jdfphotography.com.
(This blog is also posted on the Water For People web site)
Today we start from Diamond Harbor (a day’s journey from Kolkata, West Bengal, India), which is a small port village where the Ganges River meets the Bay of Bengal. I am here with three colleagues as part of the Jalabandhu (Mobile Mechanic) Impact Evaluation team that traveled to West Bengal, India, at the end of March, 2012. With us is a team of exceptional Water For People staff from the Kolkata office, who know and manage key aspects of the Jalabandhu program.
Our team of Water For People-India staff, partner NGO representative, and four World Water Corps members gladly pile into two air-conditioned vehicles around 8:00 am. We’re temporarily escaping the 80 degree heat and 90-plus percent humidity and hitting the road for the ferry to carry us (and hundreds of Hindu pilgrims who are not part of our team) to Sagar Island – home to one of the holiest Hindu sites in India. It’s also home to a successful mobile mechanic program, known as the jalabandhu program, which is backed by Water For People, and implemented by their local NGO partner, Sabuj Sangha. We’re here to review that program, and talk with the NGO, Jalabandhus, and communities.
I need to briefly explain why Sagar Island is so special. Each year in mid January around 500,000 Hindus converge on the southern tip of this island (normal population: approximately 160,000) to observe the holy day of Makar Sankranti. They submerge themselves here, where the Ganges River and Bay of Bengal meet, and they then offer puja (worship) at the Kapil Muni Temple, which is just a few hundred meters from the beach. Luckily it’s not mid-January, and we are able to dip our toes after a long day in the field with only a small group of pilgrims and the local dogs accompanying us.
We will be staying for the night in basic accommodations at a pilgrim rest-house (dharamsala), where only vegetarian food is allowed. And no garlic or onions either, as that might “stir the blood” and distract one from one’s holy purpose.
After we disembark the ferry, we are taken to our first stop: the Sagar office of Sabuj Sangha, where we meet the staff and Jalabandhus.
We learn that the hand pumps on this island are cared for by 17 Jalabandhus, who service the eight Gram Panchayets (local government jurisdictions) that comprise the island. The Jalabandhus work together as needed, and share resources and knowledge. This is facilitated by the NGO, Sabuj Sangha, who acts somewhat like a call-center. Community or WATSAN committee members can either call their respective Jalabandhus directly if their water pump needs service, or the Sabuj Sangha office directly. The office will dispatch the required Jalabandhu(s) to do the repairs. WATSAN committees, by the way, are water and sanitation committees, formed in each community to collect fees for system maintenance and replacement, and to promote sanitation and hygiene. It can be difficult for the Jalabandhus to work effectively (and get paid) in communities that don’t have WATSAN committees to organize and collect fees.
The very good news is that the Jalabandhu system has reduced the pump down-times generally from many days to only a few hours. The Jalabandhus are mostly members of the communities they serve, and the pride the Jalabandhus feel in their ability to support their communities is obvious in meeting and talking with them (albeit through an interpreter – our Bengali is a little rusty).
There are a few problems. For example, locally available parts are low-quality, and some of the community members wonder why a part that was fixed a short time ago needs to be repaired again. The Jalabandhus want to work together to import better quality parts from Kolkata so they can make better repairs.
Another commonly-heard issue is the lack of enough tool kits to repair all the types of pumps currently installed (particularly the India Mark II pump). The kits are expensive, and beyond the means of the Jalabandhus.
The Jalabandhu program is complex, and we don’t expect that one model will fit all circumstances when considering expansion. But it is very clear that the program works – drinkable water is flowing more consistently and in a more sustainable way with the Jalabandhus’ help.
What did we do the rest of the day? Met and interviewed the Pradhan (leader) of a local Gram Panchayet and staff, had a bumpy ride to a community where we interviewed the WATSAN committee after being received with flowers, and finally checked in at the dharamsala before heading to the beach to dip our toes (or entire body, in one case), and visiting the temple. Not your average package tour…