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Photo above: Children surrounding a hydraulic ram produced by AIDFI on the island Negros, the Philippines.

AIDFI is an Akvo partner based in the Philippines that does great work introducing hydraulic ram pumps into poor communities. It has reached the final 12 in The World Challenge 2010, a global competition organised by BBC World News and Newsweek. The competition seeks out projects or small businesses around the world that demonstrate enterprise and innovation at a grassroots level. The finalists will be featured in six 30 minute documentaries on BBC, and in a feature article in Newsweek, so great exposure in Europe and North America is included.

“The AIDFI foundation is a hard-working, successful organisation with a unique driving force behind it – Dutch engineer Auke Idzenga, who is a true Akvo hero.”

The AIDFI entry “The only way is up” was chosen from 800 submissions. Who wins the competition will be determined by public vote, so before reading on, please take a look and if you like what you see, cast your vote! Voting is open until midnight GMT on 12 November.

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The AIDFI organisation

The AIDFI foundation is a hard-working, successful organisation with a unique driving force behind it – Dutch engineer Auke Idzenga, who is a true Akvo hero. One of the founders of AIDFI, he is intensely focused on improving the lives of the people he works with through the application of smart and affordable technology. He’s also the subject of probably the quirkiest Akvo video interview yet – part of which we shot in a Turkish ambulance last year after Mark Charmer fell on his back while profiling him.

The AIDFI Technopark is a prime example of how to demonstrate and promote low-cost water technology, technologies that can have a major impact on the lives and livelihood of people. The worth of the center is clearly proven by the thousands of visitors that they receive yearly.

Ram pump technology

The AIDFI flagship technology is the hydraulic ram pump. A ram pump uses the power of water with a height difference flowing in a spring, stream or river to lift a fraction of the water up to 200 metres vertically, and sometimes pump it over a kilometre or two to where it is needed. No fuel or electricity is required. The ram pump holds great potential for rural drinking water and irrigation water supply in hilly and mountainous areas, such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Nepal, and the Philippines.

The technical experts at AIDFI have done something that is extremely rare: they have taken a forgotten technology, produced a new design with the principles of affordability, local production and maintenance and easy repair firmly in mind, and have implemented it successfully. During the last ten years, AIDFI has installed pumps in 170 communities, providing over 50,000 people with access to clean water as well as irrigating large areas of land.

The success didn’t go unnoticed. In 2007, the AIDFI hydraulic ram pump won the prestigious Ashden Award (presented by Al Gore and Prince Charles), and in 2008 the pump was chosen as one of three nominees out of 800 projects for the European Energy Globe Award. Now, the BBC World Challenge nomination is added to the list.

See a BBC documentary on the AIDFI work. Another movie is available here

Community involvement and Technology Transfer

Not only has AIDFI produced an excellent design of a hydraulic ram water pump, but they have built it around a whole framework of training, education, and community involvement. A technology can only thrive if it is embedded in the community, and AIDFI puts this principle to work in all its activities. Its community involvement program has ensured that the introduction of ram pumps in the Philippines has been done in a sustainable way where everybody in the chain, from production, through implementation and use, profits.

An objective proof of AIDFI’s accomplishments lies in the fact that it has received requests for introduction of the ram pump technology from over 25 countries. To the credit of its management, they take technology transfer extremely seriously, and they have developed a full technology transfer programme which involves extensive training in scoping, production, installation and maintenance. AIDFI has already transferred the ram pump technology to Afghanistan, under very difficult circumstances and with considerable danger for the personal safety of AIDFI staff. This has resulted in a successful new enterprise which sells the pumps in Afghanistan. Other countries, such as Colombia and Nepal, are lined up to be next.

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Carrying water uphill, using a yoke, is heavy work.

“There are so many things you can do when you have water”

Many people living in hillside villages 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, valley streams or rivers. The water is then 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.

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Having ample water in the village means that washing can be done close to the home, saving a lot of time.

Access to water changes lives. Communities in the Philippines go from hardly enough water to drink and cook, to an ample supply of water — 200 to 1000 litres per day, per household. As one villager put it: “We used to be so dirty at the end of the day… now we’re all clean.” Women save significant amounts of time not only by avoiding the trip to collect water, but also because clothes can now be washed in the village, instead of down at the stream. Time saved is now being used to look after children and livestock, and manage vegetable gardens.

Sufficient water for irrigation means that vegetable crops can be grown in the dry season and people now keep pigs and poultry and even fish ponds. Willy Granada, chairman of the Tara Small Farmers Co-op comments: “Look at all my tomatoes! They’d never be here without the pump. And some people have poultry now and they have pigs too. There are so many things you can do if you have water.”

We wish AIDFI the best of luck – and hope you vote for them too.

Support AIDFI projects through Akvo

At the moment, three projects of AIDFI are looking for funds – each of which is live online on Akvo. One provides drinking water for upland communities in the Philippines, the second transfers the hydraulic ram technology to Colombia, and the third introduces the rope pump in the Philippines. Please consider picking one of the projects and donate some money. It will be money well spent.

You can support this AIDFI project, which will transfer the hydraulic ram technology to Colombia

Mark Tiele Westra is editor of Akvopedia and an authority on low-cost appropriate water technologies.

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