Tipling Water Project

Tipling Water Project.  January – March 2016

 

Nepal is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of water resources.

Yet most of the villages in  this region of the Himalayas experience a variety of water-related problems.

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When we arrived in Tipling village, five months after the earthquake of April 25, 2015, we were shown the site of a primary school for 130 kids that had been built only just before  the disaster. Distressingly, it was badly damaged and beyond repair. What caught our attention was that no water connection had been planned or provided for the school site.

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After requesting authorization from the Department of Education to build a new school on the same site, we realized that it might take a long time to get the permission to build.

In the interim, we became aware of other urgent needs of the villagers. We consulted our sponsors, who agreed that we should use some of the money donated for the school to address the equally important need for water. The question was whether we should just provide the water supply to the proposed school site, or grapple with the much bigger problem of improving the inadequate water supply for the whole village? We called the villagers for a meeting to discuss both options.

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The first option was easier, as we only had to tap into the existing pipe that already supplied water to the village. This required a mere 300 meters of piping and some fittings to join with the existing pipe network. However, the pressure and supply in the village water system were already low, which meant that some taps had just a trickle of water or no water at all in the dry season.

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The second option was to harness water from two previously unused springs, at a distance of 1,500 meters from the site, in the jungle above the village. This would involve building an intake tank at the site of the springs, then enclosing the area with a barbed wire fence attached to metal posts. Those posts are fixed in concrete blocks, which then have to be buried in the ground to ensure stability. The fence is essential to keep cattle out, thereby keeping the drinking water uncontaminated with animal faeces. After this, underground pipes have to be laid down the steep slope to the village. This scheme uses the force of gravity to add additional water volume to the existing village system to maximize pressure and push the water up previously dysfunctional taps. Another advantage of joining the village mainline to a new water source instead of building a separate supply for the school is that in this way the whole village can take advantage of the new pipe, which could potentially aid communal maintenance in the future.

We agreed with the villagers that the  second option was much better. Even though it was much costlier, everyone decided it was well worth going ahead with it.

Roman, a member of our NPO Fantastic Initiative, became the water project coordinator. Roman is not only professionally qualified for the job but also very good at improvising solutions. Any undertaking in such a remote area, no matter how small or seemingly simple, always presents a host of challenges.

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In preparation for both the school and water projects, we needed to establish a camp for outside workers and foreign volunteers, as all houses in the village were either destroyed or unsafe, and the villagers themselves were living under tarpaulin. Winter was closing in fast, days were becoming shorter and colder. We purchased kitchen supplies, blankets and other camp equipment needed to survive the harsh Himalayan winter. Roman welded a stove which was efficient for cooking as well as heating, using as an inspiration the traditional “tandoori” design he was already familiar with from his travels in the Indian Himalayas. The stove was equipped with a chimney – the first one of its type in the village and one of the very few chimneys in Tipling. Most villagers cook on open fires, which leads to constant poisoning by carbon monoxide – paracetamol to ease headaches caused by smoke inhalation was one of the  medicines we were most frequently asked for. Chimney systems solve this problem completely and they are also fuel-efficient which is quite important in the village where getting a bundle of firewood requires a full day of walking. We were happy to see that our model caught on – in a few months at least two households replicated our stove design.

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A big summer tent was  insulated with blankets to keep the heat in, thus providing  decent living conditions for volunteers. Upon completion of the project all this equipment was donated to the villagers.

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After a few  rounds of consultations with plumbers and engineers in Kathmandu and abroad, we  planned the whole project, made a list of the materials and the budget, purchased tools and materials, and had them delivered to the village first by truck, then by porters and mules. It takes one day to drive from Kathmandu and then 2-3 days walk from the end of the road to reach the village.  Over time we organized the delivery of over 2.5 tons of materials (cement, pipes, fittings, tools, barbed wire etc).  We are grateful to the Himalayan Health Care NGO who started working in Tipling more than 20 years ago and helped us with organizing the deliveries.

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The villagers willingly donated their labour, so a member of each family was chosen to dig the 1,500 meter trench. It was important to lay the pipes deep underground in spite of the hard rocky soil, to prevent the water from freezing in the winter and to protect the plastic pipes from damage by UV sun radiation and animal hooves. By the time digging started, winter had already set in, which made the work even more arduous.

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The pipe had to be laid out precisely according to plan to ensure that water would run properly through the mountainous terrain. The terrain  did not allow us to lay pipes via a direct route – the pipes had to bypass some inaccessible stretches of mountain, go around private  fields and still maintain a height decrease that would allow gravity to do its job. In some places the water even had to climb up to some 35 vertical meters!

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For these reasons, the trajectory of the pipe as well as the pressure in the intake tank had to be calculated with exact precision. Fortunately the people of Tipling are very experienced in this kind of work, but even for them it proved particularly trying.

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At one point villagers had to be secured with ropes to let them work on nearly vertical slopes overhanging a sheer drop of about 300 meters down to the river.  It took about 22 days to complete the trench.

Masons were then hired to construct the intake tank. It took 4 masons 8 days to build it. 400 kg of cement was used and 1500 kg of sand from the riverbed far below were transported up to the site. This was also a challenge as the path down to the river had been badly damaged by a rockfall caused by the earthquake, so mules could not be used. People had to be hired to carry the sand and stones, 40 kilos at a time, on their backs for 1.5 hours up the steep hill.

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Once the water tank was completed and the pipes laid,  the supply of water increased as did the pressure.

Finally we had water at the school site, but when the pipes were joined to the existing system, the high pressure caused the weak joints to burst and old pipes, damaged by sun and the hooves of passing mules, to leak. To repair those became a project in itself.  Roman with some foreign volunteers had to come to Tipling twice to inspect and fix the pipes and each time some extra materials were needed.

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During all this time Roman was working 12-14 hours daily. The villagers were surprised to see him with wrenches in his hands – they joked that he belonged to the ‘tourist caste’ and should be out taking leisurely walks with his camera, not sweating in the trench like somebody of the lowest caste. They teased him, but he responded with good humour.  Gradually he earned their respect when they realized that not only was he prepared to spend the entire winter with them, but was also true to his word and determined to finish what he had started.

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In summary, the project was successfully completed within 6 weeks at a cost of $8,000 which included technical supervision, materials & transportation, labour and administrative costs. The water pressure is now strong. Efficiency of water supply is usually measured in litres per min. The new system supplies 9.5 litres per minute, which allows a bucket to be filled in about 2 minutes. A serious achievement  compared to the tiny trickle some of the village taps were supplying before!

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We can judge our success by the fact that several neighbouring villages immediately requested our help to provide them with water,  or to improve their existing supply.