Friday, November 02, 2007


My thanks to Auke Idzenga for this post!

From Mid September to Mid October (2007) the Philippine NGO called AID Foundation set up three ram pump installations in the 'Kunduz River Basin Programme' in Northern Afghanistan. This project was contracted by Mercy Corps which already has a long time presence in Afghanistan and is carrying out this long term program with EU funds.

Afghanistan is known to most of us by the terms: Russian Invasion, high mountains, agriculture (fruits, nuts, animals), friendly and proud people, long drought and of course the Taliban. A deeper look into the country will reveal much more. The scenery is unbelievable beautiful but also a very great reason for concern. Most agricultural lands are rain fed and when not cultivated look like a desert. The soil is still very fertile (mostly silty clay loam) but 80% of lands is subject to land erosion and this is very visible. The last two decades 70% of its forest got lost and right now people uproot bushes for cooking and heating and the many animals grazing the hills do the rest. According to the statistics only 2% of its forests are left. The water tables are dropping fast and many people rely on surface water for drinking.

Countering these problems look like an uphill battle especially considering that development activities in that direction have to be carried out in an uncertain security situation.

Paul Smith, the manager of the Catchment Development Program of Mercy Corps, had set up field offices, hired engineers and agriculturists, set up nurseries but was faced with the problem of having water in the rivers but not on the hills (which are his target for planting trees). Looking for a solution Paul remembered the hydraulic ram pump for a brochure given to him by his brother 30 years ago. The ram pump is a device which is water powered and which automatically pushes up a portion of the water flowing through it to very high elevations 24 hours a day and with hardly any maintenance cost. Paul started searching and got attracted to the ram pump of AID Foundation because of its combination of durability and the local availability of spare parts. Other suppliers dropped off the list because they were too
expensive, not repairable locally or they didn't want to come to Afghanistan to do installation and technology transfer.

A contract was signed for three installations and training of the local farmers who will be using the ram for irrigating their hills for the growing of fruits (apricot and apple) and nuts (almond, walnut and pistachio). Under difficult circumstances like availability of materials, ongoing Ramadan, a lot of travel time and security problems Auke Idzenga and Felix Inocencio (technical people from AID) were still able to make the three systems work and train the beneficiaries in repair and maintenance and the Mercy Corps staff in general in the technology.

The installations itself all produce more water than was agreed and expected. On the highest site, the water is pushed up to 145 meters in a volume of 5,200 liters per day. More than enough to water the planned trees on the five hectares land.

Paul and AID have discussed a continuation of the technology for Afghanistan since there are tremendous potentials for the ram. One idea is to have a technical person from Afghanistan come over for a longer period to the Philippines and train him in all facets of the installation, operation, repair and maintenance of the ram pump. This followed by a combination of sending ram bodies from AID Foundation over and fabrication locally of the pressure chambers in Afghanistan. On the long term the idea is to totally transfer the manufacturing to an entrepreneur in Afghanistan.

But the big question is: will it not be overtaken by the increased security problems. Let's hope not.

An Afghan farmer with one of the three pumps

Technology Transfer to beneficiary

The first water flowing from the pipe

Uncultivated hills but water down

Without rain it looks like a desert

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