Written by Michael Royce.
Board members Francie and Michael Royce travelled to Anangue on February 16, 2010, to visit a small village where AIDFI implemented a ram pump project nine months ago. Green Empowerment will lead a trip of Northwestern students this June to help with the installation of another ram pump project in neighboring Tres Hermanos, which now must haul its drinking water from a distant location.
Whether the cause is global warming or El Niño, it is unseasonably hot in the Philippines- more like the summer heat of May and June than February. Nevertheless, Francie and I trudge up the path to Anangue, a small sitio (a Filipino municipal subdivision), along with Auke Idzenga, Technical Director, and Liloy Caliplip, Community Organizer, for the Alternative Indigenous Foundation Inc. (AIDFI).
AIDFI is the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) partner of Green Empowerment on Negros Island in the Visayas, the island cluster at the center of the Philippines. We have driven from Bacolod, the capitol city of Negros, less than an hour on the paved road, then almost another hour on a bone-jarring stony and rutted dirt road, until even our jeep-like vehicle can go no further, and we hike the final 3 kilometers to Anangue. I notice ruefully that we are the only ones foolish enough to walk in the direct sun of midday. Shy children peer at us from between the bamboo slats of houses as we pass. Looking back, we see the richness of the mountain jungle trailing off into the coastal plains and Bacolod in the far distance, hugging the bright blue of the Guarasi Straight and farther out the Sulu Sea.
We are on this adventure to see the ram pump AIDFI installed in May, 2009, to bring drinking water to the community. We arrive in Anangue, a loose string of poor, rural houses in the upland area above Bacolod at the foot of the Cordillera dividing Negros Occidental from Negros Oriental and stand in the shade of one of the first homes on the path we have been following. A bamboo sled loaded with vegetables is in front loaded with vegetables, which a Carabau, a domesticated water buffalo, will later haul down to the road several kilometers so that the produce can be shifted to some truck or bus going into the city for sale. Francie and I listen to the joking exchange between Auke, Liloy and the villagers in the local language of Ilongo spoken on this side of Negros and one of the 8 major tongues among the 171 indigenous languages of the Philippines. Unable to understand a word, we hear the laughter, and see that information is being exchanged.
Auke and Liloy seem a little grim as we leave. Water is raised 81 meters of vertical lift by the ram pump to a central concrete reservoir at the high point of the village and then carried by gravity through plastic pipes to seven different water posts to serve all 45 households (about 270 people) of the sitio. Although there is still enough water in the early morning, by mid-day most of the watering sites only have a trickle of water. Is there some technical problem with the ram pump? Or have villagers been ignoring the rules of Anangue’s elected Water Committee, using more water than their agreed share? Each household is guaranteed water for a monthly payment to the village Water Committee of 20 pesos (less than 50 cents) to pay for maintaining the ram pump and building a reserve fund for replacement of the few inexpensive moving parts of this robust technology. If all goes well, there is also some excess money for other local development projects. Is the water shortage the age-old issue of the individual versus the commons? Each villager knows they need more water for their own use, but maybe they do not see the need to conserve and share water sustainably for the whole village.
We walk to the edge of the cliff descending sharply to an artesian spring abruptly issuing from the side of the mountain in a ravine 240 feet below us. Following Auke and Liloy, we plunge down a steep, barely visible trail through the verdant tropical jungle. The spring water is potable and is the only local source for the community. As I mournfully reflect I am getting a little old for this billy goat scrambling in the humid, stifling heat of midday, I look back to where Francie has suddenly disappeared behind me. Losing her footing, she has plummeted off the side of the trail head first, glissading toward the bottom until she comes to rest beside a large bamboo tree. Her dignity is slightly diminished and she sports some attractive new scratches on her arms, but essentially she is fine. We retrieve personal articles from various points of her descent and then she brightens, realizing she has covered a good deal of the remaining distance down to the ram pump.
We have heard the hammer-like thump of the 3.5 inch ram pumps for some time now and Auke examines the retaining tank and the ram pumps themselves. With the wonderful regularity of good appropriate technology, these robust machines slam a valve shut creating pressure in the pump chamber from the large rush of intake water dropping about 12 feet which then mechanically lifts a smaller, but substantial, flow of water almost 250 feet to a concrete reservoir, holding 32,000 liters, at the high point of the village. All is operating flawlessly; the low flow of water from the posts is not a technical problem.
Francie and I trudge up the hillside, unsuccessfully trying to keep up with Auke and Liloy, and arrive at the top dripping with sweat and a better understanding of what it meant for the children of the village to haul water from the spring to their houses each day. A gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. For a teenage boy or girl to tote 4 gallons of water to their house each day was a hard and time-consuming task, providing perhaps one-half gallon for each family member per day for cooking and all other purposes. The World Health Organization estimates 10 gallons per day per person is needed for minimal cooking, health and sanitation needs.
As we hunker around the central reservoir, a small knot of villagers approach to talk to and eyeball the strangers. Again much laughter and teasing between the community and Auke and Liloy, who is well known because he has spent much time in the village helping them prepare for the ram pump installation and to form the Water Committee. After some discussion, we are invited to one of the houses for coffee.
Walking to the house, we see that Auke and Liloy are relieved. “Yes, each family is using more water than was originally planned,” says Auke, “but look now they have small patio gardens and they told us that they can raise animals such as pigs and chickens at their home, which was impossible before because of the labor of hauling water. This is a good thing and what a water project should do- not just drinking water, but a chance to improve living conditions and earn a little money. At the start, there was too much water and it overflowed from the outtake valve of the reservoir. It is natural that the village thought they should use the water instead of letting it be wasted. These rural farmers are quite inventive after all.” Liloy tells us he will come back soon and help the Water Committee determine a new allocation of water so that each household will receive their fair share to avoid conflicts. “Maybe every family could have a different time to use water during the day so that the draw on the reservoir would be constant and not drain the tank dry… and maybe,” muses Auke, “we can increase the total flow to the village by installing a larger ram pump in June when we build the system for the neighboring community of Tres Hermanos, which will draw from the same water source.”
As we walk to the home of Roberto Barganio, a young man perhaps twenty, who is the secretary of the Water Committee, we see a small pond where one family raises Tilapia, a fish to supplement their diets and a further explanation of where some of the water is used. Robert’s extended family, at least three generations, lives in a two-room house with immaculate packed earth floors, rough-hewn local wood for the slatted sides, and corrugated metal for the roof, which must have been laboriously hauled by cart up the path. We notice a neighbor woman, who has dressed up for the occasion, joins us on the way to Robert’s house with four little packets of Nescafe for the guests.
With Auke and Liloy translating our questions from English into Ilongo, we ask Barganio what difference the water project has made. We think the answer will be simple- that they do not have to work so hard to bring water to the village and have easier access to potable water- but we are surprised. “In the past, we could not let the children wash in the morning before they walked to school because there was not enough water. We notice now that they young ones have fewer skin diseases because of being able to wash their hands and faces. We eat better now because we have more vegetables from our little gardens and we can keep animals for meat with our meals sometime.” Auke has noticed the neat, but empty, little piggery that Robert has built outside his own house and asks him where his pig is. Robert smiles shyly. “I was just married last month and my pig was the wedding feast… but I am saving to buy another one.”
We also ask how the Water Committee impacts village life. Robert tells us that they used to have a sitio council, but it has not functioned for years. “The Water Committee is the only time the village gets together as a community to talk about common problems. It is where we talk about how we will run our water system, but also about fish ponds, a revolving fund for piglets and other dreams for the future.”
As we leave, we duck under the bitter squash, another use of the new water, that Robert’s family has staked up on a trellis over much of their front yard. Auke, understanding the poverty of the village and the sacrifice that the four packets of coffee represented, covertly slips a small bill and some coins into his goodbye handshake with Robert. The World Bank defines poverty in the less developed world as living on an income of under $2 US per day and extreme poverty under $1. It is clear that in this village individual income is well under $1 US (currently 46 Philippine Pesos) per day- a subsistence community. Auke notes wryly, “A few pennies more income per day from selling vegetables, or some meat, does not sound like much, but if it means your income is double that is a big deal.”
As we walk back down the path to the jeep, Francie and I talk quietly. It has been a good visit. We have met friendly and lively people …. and learned a great deal about what water can mean to a village that has none.