Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tools for Surveying

 When communities approach us with petitions, we rely on quick, reliable, and easy methods of surveying to determine, with the community, whether we can assist them or not.  Learning and behavior change will solve many of the problems that we get petitions for, but for others some sort of practical structure is needed to address their need.  We are usually involved when something needs to be built, but perhaps not to the extent that you would guess.  As a rule, we do not do anything that communities can do for themselves.  We come in with the extra boost of support that they need to get the job done.  This usually involves accurate surveying that can be used to inform the community of their options, and help them move toward making project decisions and plans. 

I said above that survey methods must be quick, reliable, and easy.  If these criteria are not met, there is no way that we will transfer the capacity of surveying on to the communities that we are working with.  This means that expensive GPS equipment is out. 

Here are a few low-tech survey tools that we have borrowed from books and fit to our purposes.  The first is an A-frame:

A-frames are extremely simple; they can be made with tree branches, a piece of string, and a rock.  Poor farmers in many developing countries use A-frames to make terraces in their fields.   In 2009 a colleague made an aluminum A-frame for surveying the slope of a planned 700-meter pipeline.  It worked wonderfully.

Next is a fluid communicating vessel:


I found the idea for this survey tool in a FAO publication.  Whereas the A-frame is great for leveling and carefully measuring slope 1 meter at a time, we needed that would cover ground faster without losing accuracy.  What you see is two 2-meter boards with rulers and a clear hose running the full height of them.  The hose runs between the two boards, with slack, and a 5-meter chain links the bottom of the boards.  To use this, the boards are stood upright and water is dripped into them until they’re even at 1-meter height of water.  Then the surveying is as simple as taking water readings from both the front and the rear sticks, every 5 meters.  Crunch the numbers as you go or when you’re done, and you can quickly draw a line graph of the slope.  I was very pleased with how well this worked.

I don’t have a picture of the 3rd surveying technology I want to share with you, but I can describe it easily enough! 

For surveying long stretches, nothing beats the simplicity of a small spirit level that clips onto a string!  In any hardware shop here we can find small plastic spirit levels, no bigger than your finder, and they clip onto a tightly held string.  Two people take the ends of that string, stretch it out for up to 20 meters, find level, and measure the difference.  It’s not as accurate as the former two methods, but it’s a great tool for when you just need to make sure that a long ditch (over 1 kilometer) is still going downhill!

There you have it, 3 surveying tools that can be built for under $10.  One for short and super-accurate work, another for medium distance and detail, and the last for longer distances.  When used right, these provide communities with the information they need to see their options and make their action plans.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Before the snow flies - projects update

Last week I was in the villages last week, and here are the short updates on where the falls projects are at:

MZ – The big irrigation water supply project is nearly done!  The checkdam, ditch, and settling reservoir were just 1 day from completion.  The foundations for the suspension bridge were cured and ready for the pipe to be suspended.  The 830-meter-long ditch was dug and the pipe was installed and only the outlets remained.  The community has continued to go through some challenges deriving from differences of opinions, differences in priorities, and weak planning and informing on their part.  I’m glad that these struggles have gotten easier as we’ve progressed through this project.  Part of it was the necessary building of relationship and trust with the community, part of it was little mistakes, assumptions, and miscommunications that added up, and part of it can be seen as just an ordinary part of community work!

AQ – Big encouragement in visiting this village!  This was the community that was so angry with us not so long ago, and now that they have access to water in each of their three neighborhoods the mood has completely changed!  The construction of this project was not too difficult; once we got through the careful surveying it was just a matter of bringing the few extra materials and letting the community get to work.  The solution has not been perfect, because the electricity power supply from a nearby hydroelectricity plant has not been very steady, and that causes the flow rate to go up and down, causing some people to say that they are still not getting their fair share of water.  The water level in the well itself is also down in this season, so we are monitoring that.  There are still risks to watch for, but at the moment it is encouraging to see that this simple project provided a good solution.

We also went to KT, but I still need to back up and tell out about the latrine work there.  That’s for another night!

FYI: I am storing up a number of blog ideas, and hope to get them out before we send our next newsletter in mid-January.  In the week after Christmas, the family will also be going with me to one village for one day, just to enjoy a visit and see the MZ irrigation project.  That project should be completely done then, and we’ll try to get a number of pictures that we can post on the here for your enjoyment!

By the way, snow has fallen!  We got a couple inches last week, and cold temps have followed, so we are done with cement until spring.  It was a great fall project season, and I'm looking forward to wrapping up photo summaries of the projects for you in the next few weeks!