Friday, December 10, 2010

A New Water Supply System for Yabus

One of our final big projects while in Sudan was to help provide a better water supply system to the missionary base in Yabus. Yabus is about 50 km east of Doro, practically on the border with Ethiopia. While the distance is not that far, the roads in Sudan can be in quite bad shape, so getting to Yabus was our first challenge. Fortunately, there was an AIM AIR pilot and plane stationed in Doro for the second half of November, so we had him fly us as well as two of our Sudanese workers over to Yabus on the morning of November 22.

Currently to get water, the missionaries in Yabus put a large plastic drum in the back of the compound pickup truck, and drive to a nearby borehole with a hand pump. They fill the plastic drum from the borehole, and then drive it to various smaller barrels around the compound which they then fill. It works, but clearly it is time consuming and laborious and they would like to have an easier way to get water. Earlier this year, SIM contracted to have a new borehole drilled near the compound. The borehole itself has been completed, but nothing had been done since then, so our goal was to set up a system where the water could be transported to some holding tanks on the compound. A pipe had already been laid underground, running from the borehole to a centrally located spot on the compound. Our plan was to mount a solar operated pump in the borehole, connect it to a solar panel, and have it pump water through the existing pipe up to the storage tanks.

Over the course of the week, we got some good experience working together as a team, and overcoming various challenges. We were all put in charge of different aspects of the work: Ginny was the overall manager, who delegated various tasks. Our two most experienced Sudanese workers, Joseph and Dau, were there with us. Joseph was put in charge of the pipe work, and Dau was put in charge of the concrete work. I (Stephen) was responsible for the electrical work, such as mounting the solar panel and wiring up the pump. As we worked together, we ran into some small problems, and realized how important it is to be resourceful when working in the bush in Sudan with no access to hardware stores! Joseph in particular ended up not having all the parts he wanted, but cleverly found other ways to hook up the pipes in a way that would work.

As we neared the end of the week, things were going very well and it really looked like we would get a working system. Everything was in place, and the pump was wired up and working – the only thing left was to lower the pump into the borehole so that we could actually pump the water out! It was at this point that we ran into trouble. We measured the water level to be about 23m down in the borehole, but we also knew that we were at the very end of rainy season, and that as the dry season progressed the water level inside the borehole was going to go down. In fact when the borehole was first drilled, the water level was measured to be at about 34m. So we knew we had to get the pump pretty far down in order for it to work year round. Unfortunately, as we were lowering the pump it got stuck at 25m. We tried pulling the pump out and lowering it again a couple of times, and it stopped again at 25m. Thinking there must be something obstructing the borehole casing, we decided to try pulling it out a third time and seeing if we could lower something else down to dislodge whatever was preventing the pump from going down farther. Unfortunately, as we were trying to remove the pump the third time it got stuck, and would not budge. We ended up losing all connection with the pump, as the support rope, the electric cable and the hose all came loose as we were trying to dislodge the pump. At the end of the day we found that there was no way to recover the pump, and the only thing that could be done would be to return again later with a new pump. We found out later that when the borehole was being constructed, there were two sections of the casing that would not thread together correctly, so they were fused together using a torch. When this happened it likely caused the pipe to constrict slightly at that point, which would explain why the pump would not go down. The pump itself was only barely smaller than the diameter of the borehole casing so any constriction would cause a problem.

So at the end of the week we were all a bit discouraged that we failed to get the system operational. Still, we felt like we had made good progress in getting the system near to completion, and we are confident that with a little work it will be operational soon. It was great to see everyone work well together as a team, and especially good to see the hard work and resourcefulness of our Sudanese workers. It was also a blessing to us to spend some time at the Yabus base and get to know the missionaries over there. Overall, we were glad for the experience even if things did not turn out as we had hoped. I leave you with a few pictures of our work in Yabus.
Joseph with the pilot (Nate) immediately after landing in Yabus.
Doing the brickwork around the borehole.
Making the cinder blocks to use in the stand for the holding tanks.
The stand coming together!
Dau poses with the finished stand for the tanks.
Joseph shows off his handiwork with the pipework!
Wiring and testing the pump before lowering into the borehole. The solar panel can be seen in the background.
Lowering the pump.

The whole team at the end of the week.