In a number of cases, mothers, pregnant women and their malnourished children bear the brunt of looking for and fetching water down the river and back up steep hills.
Upland people are further threatened by the deadly combinations of government neglect, uncontrolled forest timber poaching, intrusion of commercial farming and water extraction by big agribusiness companies, explorations by mining companies, continuously expanding sugar production in view of the growing domestic and international demand for bio-ethanol and bio-fuel, and the government-initiated privatization of coastal lands surrounding the vast mountainous areas.
The generally backward and fast-deteriorating upland areas of Negros, which comprise 64 percent of the island’s land area of 1,332.837 hectares is a home to almost 2.3 million poor people – or almost two-thirds of the island’s present 3.8 million people.
AIDFI’s water-powered ram pump
This reality has challenged local government units and non-government organizations to come out with solutions and make the necessary intervention.
Unfortunately, only a few made good breakthroughs in development interventions and in changing people’s lives, and one of them is the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc., or AIDFI.
AIDFI is a Negros-based non-government development organization dedicated to the invention, fabrication, installation, development and promotion of hydraulic ram pumps, and various other appropriate technologies in support of small farmers and agricultural producers in the rural villages.
Its flagship product, the hydraulic ram pump, is an indigenous device which is water-powered and automatically pushes up a portion of the water flowing through it to very high locations 24 hours a day and with hardly any maintenance cost.
The most novel feature of the ram pump model developed and manufactured by AIDFI is the use of door hinges for the waste valve, which creates a steel-to-steel seal. This avoids the use of gaskets which would quickly wear out in this high-impact valve.
AIDFI ram pumps are specially designed for use where maintenance is carried out by trained local people in the community with limited access to tools and spare parts. Some parts need regular replacement and are therefore made from cheap and locally available materials: the waste valve is made from a door hinge and the check valve can be made from an old car tire.
Another feature that makes the idea different from the existing approaches is that AIDFI installs the hydraulic ram pumps to address the water problem of the target communities in exchange for the protection and conservation of their watershed forest reserve.
Bridging lowland and upland
The once waterless and poor upland villages of Bagacay and Kauswagan now live with abundance of water. This development also opened vast opportunities for the communities towards productive and sustainable agricultural development.
The pulling of water from the river to the upland villages was made possible by the installation in 2006 of three separate renewable water-powered hydraulic ram pump units at the foot of a spring beside the river. These pull up the water to a concrete reservoir 20 feet in diameter and 10 feet high at 90 meters from the top of the hill with 40 percent slope. The tank is filled with 10,000 liters of potable water, which is distributed to several tap stands erected in strategic sites in the village.
Water is now in the courtyard of the two villages, serving the 70 households in Bagacay and 90 households in Kauswagan for 24 hours a day.
“The pulling of water to our courtyard have greatly eased our hardships. We have saved as much as P5,000 ($100-120) a year for getting water; we now consume water without limits, for drinking, washing, laundry and backyard gardening,” admitted Melvin.
For Minda, she has now more time for farming and other livelihood generating activities. “Most importantly, I have saved myself from getting older faster, and my children from early physical hardships and accidents,” she said.
Gamay, a local technician trained by AIDFI to maintain the ram pump units said, “I now miss the time when our villagers had to march in columns everyday to the river, and also the daily scenes of our river packed by people doing their daily household chores.”
“Water is really great, it is life, it gives us lots of opportunities to do anything for ourselves and for the improvement of our community,” added Ramon.
Other families have told me that since the installation of ram pumps in their village, they can go early to farm work, school and even have time for leisure and recreation.
To ensure that everyone gets continuous water service and the ram pump units are properly maintained, AIDFI facilitated the organization of water associations in both villages and the training of local maintenance technicians.
The associations in Bagacay and Kauswagan agreed that each water consumer must pay P20 a month. A system of collection and recording of collected money has been established.
In Bagacay, the water association could generate as much as P120,000 ($2,700) a year from water fees paid by members.
“Although we still have problems in our collections, the systems we have installed are slowly improving, and eventually we could really achieve our monthly and yearly revenue targets. Once we have attained this, we will plan of new projects for our members,” said Rogelio.