Water in a Desert (1992)
Client / Financial Support: Social Work Research Centre, Tilonia
Duration: 20 mts
During the early nineties the hand pump was seen as a major technological development capable of providing drinking water to villages across the country. SWRC undertook to install handpumps in remote areas of Ladakh, including the Nubra Valley, Leh town and other remote high-altitude areas. Because of the extreme cold in winter – 40 degrees at its worst – water sources such as the Stakhna dam and numerous rivers would freeze over, making water unavailable to large sections of the population.
Installing hand pumps was the obvious answer. Water in a Desert documents the challenges involved with this project, including some of the innovations that SWRC undertook in dealing with the unique topography and climate of the region. Sand is omnipresent in this high-altitude desert, and as a result, conventional drillings for hand pumps were unable to maintain a rigid bore. Inevitably, sand columns would collapse into the hole being drilled, rendering the drilling effort useless.
SWRC came up with an innovative solution to the problem: they used two casings, an outer casing that kept the sand out, and an inner casing through which water was pumped to the surface. A second problem was associated with the extreme cold of the winters, when temperatures dropped to – 40 degrees. At such temperatures, resident water in the casing above and just below the ground would freeze and expand. Burst pipes were the sorry story of Ladakh’s hand pumps. SWRC dug a pit 4-5 feet deep from the surface, and drilled a little outlet valve for water to drain into the soil. By eliminating stored resident water from this section of the pipe, hand pumps could be used throughout the winter. Hand pumps are used throughout the country today, enabling large sections of rural India to access potable drinking water.