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AID Foundation (AIDFI) / Ram pumps bring running water to hillside villages

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Many people living in villages on the hillsides in the Philippines do not have easy access to fresh water, and have to make a difficult journey down steep slopes to collect what they require for their basic needs from springs, streams or rivers in the valleys. Lack of water leads to poor hygiene and sanitation, and limits agricultural activities.

The AID Foundation installs ram pumps to provide a good supply of water from the rivers to the hillside villages. The ram pumps use the power of the water flowing in the spring, stream or river to lift a small fraction of the water up to 200 metres vertically, and sometimes pump it over a kilometre to where it is needed. When a ram pump is installed, the local people benefit from having sufficient water for personal hygiene, sanitation and washing clothes, rather than just enough for eating and drinking. They also have a surplus for growing more food and can significantly increase their income.

By 2007 AID Foundation had installed 98 ram pumps at 68 sites

These pumps give 15,000 people access to a safe water supply

Village incomes are estimated to have risen by 30% as a result


Much of the island of Negros in the Philippines was formerly covered with sugar plantations, but after the sugar price crashed in the 1980s many people lost their livelihoods, and a climate of conflict arose in the area. Since then there has been some land reform, although conflict continues at a low level. Many people reap only one harvest a year from their land, and this is mostly rice for their own use, although some maize and sugar cane is grown for sale. Dry season vegetables are grown where there is a water supply available. However, deforestation has led to increasing droughts in the hotter months, causing problems for farmers and leading to the abandonment of some land.

The terrain in Negros is hilly, and many villagers must scramble for a hundred metres down a steep slope, twice a day, to collect to fresh water, which is carried back in jerry cans on a shoulder yoke. This is dangerous and time-consuming, and means that water is often used only for essential purposes like drinking and cooking, with little spare for hygiene, sanitation or agriculture. Wells are sometimes available, but these supplies may become contaminated by agricultural or industrial run-off. This is where the ram pumps supplied by AIDFI are helping people, by providing an adequate supply of clean water to the villages.

AIDFI was started in 1990 to help people who had lost their employment on sugar plantations and had no land to provide them with an income. In addition to the ram-pumps, AIDFI has also been working to provide poor communities with micro-hydro for battery charging, biogas plants, hand and foot pumps, solar water heating and micro wind-power

Before the AID foundation installed ram pumps villagers had to fetch and carry water up steep slopes.

Technology and use

Ram pump technology was developed over 200 years ago, and has great potential for supplying water without the need for electricity or fossil fuels, but many installations in the Philippines and elsewhere have not been successful. AIDFI developed a durable ram pump design, with cheap and locally-available options for the moving parts which need regular replacement, and it also emphasises the critical importance of regular maintenance to keep the pump working properly. Over the past 10 years AIDFI has installed 98 pumps in 68 communities in the Philippines, and there are probably another 10,000 sites where the pumps could be used.

Ram pumps use the power available in water flowing down through drop of a few metres to lift a small percentage of that water through a much greater height, to where it is needed. TRam pump designed by AID foundation and installed with the help of villagers in Negros, Philippines, lifting it up to 200 metres.

Ram pump designed by AID foundation and installed with the help of villagers in Negros, Philippines

The principle of operation of a ram pump is as follows, and shown in the diagram below:

  1. Water is allowed to flow down the drive pipe and out of the waste valve.
  2. As the flow of water accelerates, the waste valve is forced shut, causing a pressure surge (or ’water hammer‘) as the moving water is suddenly brought to a halt.
  3. The pressure surge causes the check valve to open, allowing high-pressure water to enter the air chamber and delivery pipe. The pressurised air in the air chamber helps to smooth out the pressure surges from the ram pump and ensure a continuous flow through the delivery pipe.
  4. As the pressure surge subsides, the pressurised air in the air chamber causes the check valve to close, and forces water up the delivery pipe. The sudden closure of the check valve reduces the pressure in the ram body, so that waste valve opens under its own weight, and the pump is returned to the start of its operation cycle.
Simplified diagram of the ram pump

The ram pump is not new technology; a manually operated version was developed in the UK in 1772 by John Whitehurst, and a self-acting version was developed in France by Joseph Michel Montgolfier in 1796. Although apparently an attractive option for rural energy supply, many implementations of the ram pump in developing countries, including the Philippines, have not been successful due to poor design, and lack of maintenance and spare parts. Before starting the AIDFI ram pump programme, Auke Idzenga made a survey of all the ram pump installations that he could find in the Philippines, to learn what design factors were crucial to successful operation, and also find out how to reduce the cost.

The design developed by AIDFI uses mild steel for the body of the ram pump itself, including the final section of the drive pipe and air reservoir. Some critical parts are made from stainless steel to ensure they last throughout the expected lifetime of over 20 years. All construction materials are sourced locally, although the stainless steel is imported from Japan by Philippine steel companies. The pumps are made in the AIDFI workshop, where high quality manufacture and good working practices are required; workers must wear steel capped shoes, safety goggles and protective gloves as needed.

The AIDFI ram pump design is patented, and its most novel feature is the use of a door hinge for the waste valve, which creates a steel-to-steel seal. This avoids the use of a gasket, which would quickly wear out in this high-impact valve. A further feature that helps improve the reliability of the pump is a submersible box around the outflow of the waste valve, which prevents air entering the pump at the end of each cycle. This is important as if air enters the ram body it reduces the efficiency of the pump.

 Pumps come in different sizes and local villagers are trained in installation and maintenance

The AIDFI ram pumps are specially designed for use in the setting of Negros, where maintenance is carried out by trained villagers with limited access to tools and spare parts. Some parts need regular (three to six months) replacement and are therefore made from cheap, locally available materials: the waste valve is made from a door hinge, and the check valve can be made from an old car tyre. Local people are often innovative with the maintenance – plywood has been used to make replacement gaskets, and has worked well because the wood expands when it is wet, ensuring a good seal.

AIDFI supplies five different sizes of ram pump with intake rates ranging from 10 to 800 litres per minute, allowing them to cater for different heads, flow rates and delivery heights. For small schemes an individual pump is used, but for larger schemes multiple pumps are connected in parallel or in series (depending on the head and flow rate). The pumps operate continuously and deliver water to a reservoir of 1,000 to 50,000 litres at the village, which will typically be filled up overnight and then drained down through the day. AIDFI has installed 98 ram pumps so far at 68 sites.

How users pay

£1 = P91 (Philippine Pesos) [April 2007]

A typical ram pump installation for 50 households or 300 people costs P200,000 250,000 (£2,200-2,700), although the largest system installed which included extensive civil works and distribution networks for households and irrigation, cost P1.8 million (£19,800). The capital cost of all ram pumps installed so far has been met by local authorities, government development departments, NGOs or international development agencies. For local authorities the funding of a ram pump system can be a very cost-effective way of meeting their obligation to supply water. In future there is the possibility of community co-operatives using micro-finance to purchase ram pumps.

Villagers contribute their labour during the installation of the ram pump, helping with transport, pipe-laying, concrete-mixing and construction of the reservoir. The community using the ram pump also collects a small fee of P10-25 (£0.11 – £0.27) a month from each household to pay the technicians for maintenance of the system.

When a ram pump is installed, the local people benefit from having sufficient water for personalhygiene, sanitation and washing clothes, rather than just enough for eating and drinking.

Training, support and quality control

AIDFI manufactures the ram pumps in its own workshop to ensure the quality remains high, and does not use subcontractors. If ram pumps are not maintained properly, they will fail, so AIDFI must ensure that trained local staff will maintain the pump. At the start of installation the  installers select two or three local people to be trained as technicians. The installers live in  community during the installation, and the local trainees help them, so learn in detail about  aspects of the ram pump system. After the installation is complete, the local technicians are trained further in maintenance and provided with a tool kit and spare parts for the pump. The technicians are typically paid a fee of P70/day (£0.77) from the community fund, to check the system  working correctly and perform any retuning, replacement of parts or other maintenance as required. This is a significant amount of money in a region where the cash income from  is typically P15,000 (£165) a year or P40 (£0.45) a day, and therefore gives a real incentive to provide good maintenance. With proper maintenance and replacement of valves, the ram pump system should last for 20 years.

AIDFI technicians visit each site four weeks after installation to make sure everything is working correctly. After this there are no further routine visits, but AIDFI gives assistance if any problem arises. Full details of all installations are kept in the AIDFI office


Social Benefits

The 98 ram pumps installed to date by AIDFI are delivering over 900 m3 of water every day, serving over 15,000 people and irrigating large areas of land.

For many people, the most important benefit of the ram pump is having an adequate, safe water supply for the first time. Villagers no longer have to undertake the difficult and sometimes dangerous task of collecting water, and they now have ample water supply, typically 200 to 1,000 litres/day per household. When water had to be carried up steep slopes from the local source in the valley to the villages, only the minimum required for eating and drinking was collected. Now that there is a plentiful water supply in the village itself, there is water available for personal hygiene and sanitation.

There is also a significant time saving, especially for the women, not just from avoiding the trip to collect water, but also because clothes can now be washed in the village, instead of down at the stream. This time is now being used in caring for children and livestock, and tending vegetable gardens.

The pumps have given villagers a safer, cleaner environment as well as more time and potential.

Economic and employment benefits

A further benefit is that there is now sufficient water for irrigation of vegetable crops in the dry season, for keeping pigs and poultry and even for fishponds. In one region AIDFI has set up a lemongrass oil distillery as a self sustaining small enterprise, using the water provided by a ram pump and heat from a solar water heater. If a community still has surplus water after they have met all their own needs, they sometimes sell it to a neighbouring community that does not yet have a ram pump. Water is also used to help establish newly planted trees – AIDFI insists on tree-planting whenever a ramp pump is installed in a region whose water supply is at risk due to deforestation.

Some communities are setting up ram pump associations, to look at different ways of using water to increase their income. There are reports of people who have increased their cash income from P15,000 (£165) a year to P80,000 (£880) a year – a 400% increase! – although in most cases the increase is probably closer to 30-40%. Families also save a significant amount, about P20 (£0.22) a day, in the dry season through not having to buy vegetables. The new money earned and saved is being spent on improving nutrition, transport to school, healthcare and clothing.

About 10% of ram pump installations have replaced electric or diesel pumps for water supply. Here, the community saves P7,500-9,000 (£80-100) per month in running costs, so the ram pump pays for itself in under 2 years, and avoids the associated CO2 emissions.

AIDFI provides direct employment to 21 people of whom about 14 are involved full time with the ram pump work.

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