Yesterday morning, we drove Achinakom village, the project site, with Mr. Sylas, Dr. Thomas (former director of MGU School of Environmental Science), Prof. John, and Dr. Ramasamy (current School director). We sat in on a general body meeting (all in Malayalam; we were pretty lost but had some translation) with the future system users, local committee members, and us from the university. Although construction deadlines are approaching, the atmosphere was pretty relaxed, with plenty of joking and smiling.
This was followed by a local committee meeting with the two Panchayath (local government body) members from Achinakom, four village representatives, and Suma (the women's self-help group secretary). They set out a construction schedule for the system over the next three weeks, with material delivery later this week and building beginning on the ninth. It is expected to take twelve days to finish construction and allow all concrete to cure. They also agreed to open a bank account for project expenses in the name of “Rainwater for Humanity – Achinakom.” Suma and a Panchayath member will be signatories.
We all walked over to the system site. Taking advantage of local conditions, it is situated in an abandoned canal, approximately 2m deep, 5m wide, and 20m long. They have divided it in half to use one side for the storage tank and the other for drainage. Local engineers have advised that a silpaulin membrane tank will be unable to withstand existing hydrostatic pressure from the (very high) water table, so a rigid tank lining is required. They plan to mortar the sides of the canal (simultaneously pumping out groundwater) and then build a reinforced concrete shell. As per our proposal, there will be an elevated wall around the outside of the system (sloped 5°) and corrugated sheet metal roof (most likely galvanized iron).
When completed, the system will store about 120,000 liters of water (entirely contained within the subsurface canal). This will provide 16 neighboring families (approximately 72 people) with water over the course of the year. The primary desire is to have 20 liters a day available per family during the dry season (from December to April, about 38,400 liters). The current estimated cost is Rs. 135,000 (about US$2,700), and local masons estimate a lifetime of 50 years. Compared to Rs. 0.2 per liter of drinking water from private vendors (a common source during dry months, when well water is unusable), this is a factor of ten savings over the system lifetime.
Before building begins, we plan on gathering first-person background information on the social and technical impact of the system. We will interview villagers, visit the local health clinic, and test water samples from current sources to learn about current water use practices and issues. This baseline information will be crucial to measure Rainwater for Humanity's impact on concrete health metrics. We also plan to meet with consulting engineers at MGU and the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) and local masons in order to understand how local construction techniques have adapted to deal with difficult building conditions.
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