Water is one of the most important natural resources, yet so many people have limited access to it. The Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) has been working for the past 15 years to improve life in impoverished communities with simple, sustainable technologies.
This year, the group received a Ramon Magsaysay Award for their flagship technology, the hydraulic ram pump, which brings water to remote locales using only the force of moving water.
In a statement, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) praised AIDFI’s “small-scale, accessible, low-maintenance technology that is customized for local needs, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and one owned and managed by the people themselves.” The prize, dubbed Asia’s Nobel, is not AIDFI’s first, however; their work with the ram pump has also won the Ashden Award in 2007 and the BBC World Challenge in 2010, as well as recognition from President Bill Clinton.
AIDFI’s pumps can deliver 1,500 to 72,000 liters of water per day. Needing no external source of power and with only two moving parts, the ram pumps are easily maintained and suited for rural use. The pumps convert the moving water’s velocity to pressure that works to force the water uphill. Although this technology has been around for hundreds of years, interest in the pump dwindled after the development of electric pumps, but the present need for sustainable technologies in poorer areas has revived local interest.
Auke Idzenga, one of AIDFI’s founders and its current technical department head, got the idea from his university days in the Netherlands. “I found it unbelievable that you can pump up water to very great heights without the use of any external energy. So it was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to do something with that,” he said in an interview. When AIDFI was formed after the collapse of the sugar industry in Negros, the group developed the pump because “this was needed everywhere in the uplands.”
According to Mr. Idzenga, despite the land reforms instituted in Negros Occidental, basic needs and social services in the area were difficult to obtain. So, AIDFI set about trying to fill the gap. “We had the technical background, so we started with the technology. We had knowledge of the pump.”
A typical village helped by AIDFI would be around 80-100 meters above its water source. With a ram pump in place, locals can force the water to defy gravity.
Mr. Idzenga noted that diarrhea cases among children would disappear with the increase of clean water. The villagers also became more self-sustaining. “They start growing vegetables around the house because they can water the plants for their own consumption. Sometimes they start growing pigs…just one, but that’s already a big help for their household.”
Because sustainability and community cultivation are important to AIDFI’s goals, every ram pump installation greatly involves the local community. In the three to four weeks it takes to install the pump system, development workers stay in the village and share what they have learned from other communities. This constitutes the project’s “social package” aspect. They not only make sure that the installation goes smoothly but also set up the social structure—dubbed a “water association”—needed to sustain the pump system and manage water distribution and generation after the AIDFI team leaves.
Once there is a local, formal organization, they can decide how they help in the installation, with two or three people from the village trained as local technicians. The ownership of the system is also transferred to the community. “Afterwards we monitor until they can manage everything themselves, but we’re always in the background if there are organization matters and we can help,” Mr. Idzenga said.
Besides the ram pump, AIDFI has other projects as well, all small-scale and suited to the basic needs of people. These include hydropower, battery charging, different water pumps, sanitation, latrines, wind power, biogas, and agricultural equipment. To increase rural incomes, AIDFI has also designed a distiller that processes lemongrass into oil for various uses. The group designs everything internally with a technical group of 12 people, all from the grass roots.
From its origins in Negros, AIDFI has spread the ram pump technology not only throughout the Philippines but also to many other countries. For instance, the group has sent pumps to places such as Japan and Malaysia and have an installation team set up in Cambodia. They have also finished training Colombian technicians in manufacturing the ram pump and will be sending technicians there in September to do an installation. The group also carried out ram pump installations in Afghanistan, where the process was so dangerous that Mr. Idzenga said the team had to be guarded by rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
AIDFI sustains itself with profits generated from every pump system. The group is also in talks with Coca-Cola for the sponsored installation of ram pumps in 50 villages a year. Other NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) may also hire AIDFI as a technical services provider when they feel the need for a ram pump system.
According to Mr. Idzenga, “more self-reliance, more teams, more interest in our work,” will follow the Ramon Magsaysay Award. “We want to spread the ram pump, not all over the world, but as much as possible, and then also in the Philippines, so we have to have more installation[s]. We are looking for people with passion and drive, but can make a living installing ram pumps. Then, we want to use our name to push for more enterprising…there are many NGOs looking for enterprising activities, so we want to help.”- Eush Tayco
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