Chiapas Rainwater

(This is part of a five project series on HSU Chiapas 2010 started here)

Part of rainwater team building a system in a community near Acteal.

Rain.  Coming back from a summer in Mexico, everyone expects me to be tanner. Like other assumptions about a country as big and diverse as Mexico, not necessary so…  San Cristobal de las Casas was gorgeous.  San Cristobal was interesting.  San Cristobal had great coffee, chocolate, people, languages, music and fun.  San Cristobal was not that sunny… in fact, it rained about an inch per week during the five weeks of Appropriate Technology classes. There is a dry season, we just weren’t there for it.  The rain is enjoyable, but the waterborne and foodborne illnesses that affect many (including me and the students) are not. It was in that context that we were so excited to have one of the five projects for the Humboldt State University – Chiapas 2010, full immersion in Spanish and Appropriate Technology, summer abroad program be rainwater catchment systems.
Rainwater Catchment At A Glance
Description: Catching rainwater (often before it hits the ground), filtering and storing it for future use.
Inputs: rain
Outputs: Usable, potable if filtered, water
Improvements: reduced run-off and erosion, increased access to clean water, reduced time spent collecting and transporting water, reduced mosquito breeding areas near home

The whole rainwater catchment team building in Chiapas.

A team of four students collaborated with local designers and community members to build three systems: one with the appropriate technology demonstration home of Juan Hidalgo in San Cristobal and two with a community near Acteal. The student designers went through a few iterations at the demo house, testing and finding leaks, until they got it right. They then used that information to design and build the systems with the more rural community.  They also worked with Otros Mundos to start the construction of two 20,000 liter ferrocement tanks for storage.  Here is their rainwater system documentation in English and Spanish.  Here is some of the needed math for design.
Their innovations:
  • Using a first flush in Chiapas (I haven’t seen it other places here)
  • Using a PVC cap with one hole drilled high (for drainage and a cord for removing it) as the drain of the first flush. Having this hole high on the end-cap of a 90 degree elbow will keep it from plugging soon and keep the spray away from the house and into a bucket for reuse.
  • Using used vegetable oil to protect the wood supports.
  • Using costales (earth bags) for the base of one system.
  • Using tamped sand, instead of concrete, for the supports of one system.
  • Using wire to keep bent roofing metal in a channel shape.
Next steps:
  • Finish the ferrocement tanks in the community.
  • Revisit the systems in one year to see what went wrong.
  • Innovate!
  • Build a database of local rainwater systems (see image) and feedbacks.
  • Re-Innovate!
  • Workshops and community meetings on rainwater collection and water in general.
different (and probably better) way to use PVC with Rainwater Catchment
*This image is not our rainwater system, but it is the coolest way I have seen PVC used as a gutter (which is usually a big pain and doesn’t work all that well). We are going to try out this system at Otros Mundos.  In this image, Tania and Claudia are assessing its construction.  Now take that system and get a first flush on it and you’d probably have one great system!

Chiapas Rainwater

(This is part of a five project series on HSU Chiapas 2010 started here)

Part of rainwater team building a system in a community near Acteal.

Rain.  Coming back from a summer in Mexico, everyone expects me to be tanner. Like other assumptions about a country as big and diverse as Mexico, not necessary so…  San Cristobal de las Casas was gorgeous.  San Cristobal was interesting.  San Cristobal had great coffee, chocolate, people, languages, music and fun.  San Cristobal was not that sunny… in fact, it rained about an inch per week during the five weeks of Appropriate Technology classes. There is a dry season, we just weren’t there for it.  The rain is enjoyable, but the waterborne and foodborne illnesses that affect many (including me and the students) are not. It was in that context that we were so excited to have one of the five projects for the Humboldt State University – Chiapas 2010, full immersion in Spanish and Appropriate Technology, summer abroad program be rainwater catchment systems.
Rainwater Catchment At A Glance
Description: Catching rainwater (often before it hits the ground), filtering and storing it for future use.
Inputs: rain
Outputs: Usable, potable if filtered, water
Improvements: reduced run-off and erosion, increased access to clean water, reduced time spent collecting and transporting water, reduced mosquito breeding areas near home

The whole rainwater catchment team building in Chiapas.

A team of four students collaborated with local designers and community members to build three systems: one with the appropriate technology demonstration home of Juan Hidalgo in San Cristobal and two with a community near Acteal. The student designers went through a few iterations at the demo house, testing and finding leaks, until they got it right. They then used that information to design and build the systems with the more rural community.  They also worked with Otros Mundos to start the construction of two 20,000 liter ferrocement tanks for storage.  Here is their rainwater system documentation in English and Spanish.  Here is some of the needed math for design.
Their innovations:
  • Using a first flush in Chiapas (I haven’t seen it other places here)
  • Using a PVC cap with one hole drilled high (for drainage and a cord for removing it) as the drain of the first flush. Having this hole high on the end-cap of a 90 degree elbow will keep it from plugging soon and keep the spray away from the house and into a bucket for reuse.
  • Using used vegetable oil to protect the wood supports.
  • Using costales (earth bags) for the base of one system.
  • Using tamped sand, instead of concrete, for the supports of one system.
  • Using wire to keep bent roofing metal in a channel shape.
Next steps:
  • Finish the ferrocement tanks in the community.
  • Revisit the systems in one year to see what went wrong.
  • Innovate!
  • Build a database of local rainwater systems (see image) and feedbacks.
  • Re-Innovate!
  • Workshops and community meetings on rainwater collection and water in general.
different (and probably better) way to use PVC with Rainwater Catchment
*This image is not our rainwater system, but it is the coolest way I have seen PVC used as a gutter (which is usually a big pain and doesn’t work all that well). We are going to try out this system at Otros Mundos.  In this image, Tania and Claudia are assessing its construction.  Now take that system and get a first flush on it and you’d probably have one great system!

HSU Chiapas 2010 Follow-up


A monument to the December 22, 1997 Masacre in Acteal

After the Zapatista armed uprising in Chiapas during the 1990’s, you may find it surprising that the Humboldt State University, Spanish and Appropriate Technology, summer abroad program had to move from Coahuila in Northern Mexico to Chiapas in Southern Mexico for safety reasons.  Yet, that is where we found ourselves this year… with the drug war ravaging much of Northern Mexico we were unable to return to our friends, colleagues and projects in the beautiful oasis town of Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, Mexico.

For those same safety reasons, after four consecutive years, we had cancelled the 2009 program completely. This year we moved it to the ethereal San Cristobal de las Casas and surrounding villages in Chiapas, Mexico. This summer’s projects were very exciting. Thanks, in large part, to the great organizations we worked with, especially our incredible project and community liaison – Otros Mundos.
Over the next two weeks, I will share the inputs, outputs, improvements, innovations and learnings from each of the following HSU Chiapas 2010 projects:
  • Improved cookstoves
  • Microhydro feasibility study
  • Windbelts
  • A biodigester
  • Rainwater catchment systems

some of the HSU Chiapas 2010 students studying microhydro

Looking for cookers that work

Of the actions we can take to reduce greenhouse impact, the ones that deserve the most attention are those with major side-benefits. Of the side-benefits that matter, the most compelling are those that benefit the poor.

Cooking and lighting, still done with open flames in much of the world, are contenders for the most important areas of action – not only is there an opportunity to reduce greenhouse impact, but there are substantial economic gains for the poor, and even bigger health gains – household fires cause respiratory disease, eye disease, and death for the poor on a huge scale. So why haven’t the problems been fixed?

There are lots of stove technologies – rocket stoves, solar cookers and the like – out there that can do the job better and use cleaner fuels, but the capital costs are higher and the distribution models are complex. Incentives from the carbon markets may be part of the solution, but they have not provided enough benefit to drive the adoption of clean cooking products on their own. Even more, getting certified through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol is a long and complicated process, a real barrier for start-ups interested in attacking the stove problem.

We are committed to finding a solution here, and welcome any suggestions or thoughts as we move forward.  These stoves, along with the lack of lighting, are really the two biggest energy issues faced by the poor today.Acumen Fund Blog.

The post also states that “this is not simply a technological issue.” That’s the thing with appropriate technology – it’s never simply a technological issue.

Hat tip: Changed by Design.

Usability in blogs and stoves

Design prototypes in Myanmar. Which is cooler?

Over at 3brick design, a project spawned from Stanford’s Extreme Affordability class, they take user-centered design seriously, and respect the dignity of the people they’re trying to serve. The examples they’ve displayed so far look elegant and functional – I’ll be interested to see what they come up with.

One thing is sure: it’s unlikely to be a single design. As the context changes, the appropriate technology for the situation tends to change as well. Do the users mainly frying or do slow cooking, for example?

Showing that they think about their users in more than just a cooking context, the project has chosen a nice lean blog skin for WordPress called Darwin, designed to be fast-loading and easy on the eye. Good work.

Picture credit: “3 bricks. Many users.” at the Stanford Cool Product Expo blog.

Appropriate technology guru tackles infant mortality.

What’s the number one cause of death in children under 5? Waterborne diseases? Diarrhea? Malnutrition? No: “Breathing the smoke from indoor cooking fires – acute respiratory infections caused by this.”

Indoor cooking with commonly used stoves causes a lot of smoke contributes to deforestation, erosion, flooding.

There are lots of efforts to improve cooking fuels as well as the stoves. Some have been successful, many haven’t been appropriate to the needs of the users. Amy Smith, a remarkable thinker, inventor and doer in appropriate technology, shares some exciting developments:

Amy Smith also founded and leads the International Development Design Summit.

Appropriate Technology Wiki

People around the world are working on appropriate technology. Most of them don’t know each other – aren’t aware of others with knowledge that might inform their own work. Connecting these people and this knowledge is what we had in mind when we started this Appropriate Technology Wiki almost 3 years ago.

“Appropriate Technology Wiki” is one way of describing Appropedia – it could also be called a sustainability wiki, an international development wiki, public health wiki, a wiki for thrivability, for abundance, or many other things. But appropriate technology sums up so much: the right solution for the context, relying on ingenuity,  efficiency and awareness of the environment, rather than throwing resources at a problem.

By this definition, are you working on appropriate technology? Do you want to see a comprehensive resource, a guide to solutions? Join us: Use Appropedia, contribute to it, and make sure appropriate technologists around the world know about it. And leave a comment to let us know how it’s helping you.

Appropriate Technology Wiki

People around the world are working on appropriate technology. Most of them don’t know each other – aren’t aware of others with knowledge that might inform their own work. Connecting these people and this knowledge is what we had in mind when we started this Appropriate Technology Wiki almost 3 years ago.

“Appropriate Technology Wiki” is one way of describing Appropedia – it could also be called a sustainability wiki, an international development wiki, public health wiki, a wiki for thrivability, for abundance, or many other things. But appropriate technology sums up so much: the right solution for the context, relying on ingenuity,  efficiency and awareness of the environment, rather than throwing resources at a problem.

By this definition, are you working on appropriate technology? Do you want to see a comprehensive resource, a guide to solutions? Join us: Use Appropedia, contribute to it, and make sure appropriate technologists around the world know about it. And leave a comment to let us know how it’s helping you.

Be a Global Swadeshi

Apricots on the Factor E Farm: food is key to self-sufficiencySwadeshi is a term popularized by Gandhi meaning self-sufficiency, and being mindful of what one consumes. Global Swadeshi, with the tagline because one world is plenty, is a network of globally minded people who believe in enabling self-sufficiency – being in a community producing what we need, rather than living beyond our means.

Not everyone at Global Swadeshi is a hardcore isolationist, with a “grow or make absolutely everything” philosophy. Vinay Gupta, the co-founder, relies heavily an the power of mass-production for his flat-pack refugee shelter, the Hexayurt. I’m a believer in trade (with provisos about the nature of the transport). But we can agree on self-sufficiency as the norm – being productive where we are – which means a resilient community, greater connectedness with others and with the earth that supports us. By nature it also means greater sustainability – not for the sake of a trend, but because it makes sense, and is the opposite of waste.

And among other things, Global Swadeshi is a meeting place for people interested in:

Just as Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement came at a moment of crisis – the oppression of India by another nation – and offered practical measures that ultimately worked, so Global Swadeshi comes when the human race as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges, and is working on real solutions. No time for fluff and games – this is serious.

While so many are poor, we cannot say that we are a rich world. Rather, we are a world which has the capacity first to support everyone, and secondly to manifest the latent abundance of the world in ways which this generation cannot even dream of. – from the Global Swadeshi manifesto

Be a Global Swadeshi

Apricots on the Factor E Farm: food is key to self-sufficiencySwadeshi is a term popularized by Gandhi meaning self-sufficiency, and being mindful of what one consumes. Global Swadeshi, with the tagline because one world is plenty, is a network of globally minded people who believe in enabling self-sufficiency – being in a community producing what we need, rather than living beyond our means.

Not everyone at Global Swadeshi is a hardcore isolationist, with a “grow or make absolutely everything” philosophy. Vinay Gupta, the co-founder, relies heavily an the power of mass-production for his flat-pack refugee shelter, the Hexayurt. I’m a believer in trade (with provisos about the nature of the transport). But we can agree on self-sufficiency as the norm – being productive where we are – which means a resilient community, greater connectedness with others and with the earth that supports us. By nature it also means greater sustainability – not for the sake of a trend, but because it makes sense, and is the opposite of waste.

And among other things, Global Swadeshi is a meeting place for people interested in:

Just as Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement came at a moment of crisis – the oppression of India by another nation – and offered practical measures that ultimately worked, so Global Swadeshi comes when the human race as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges, and is working on real solutions. No time for fluff and games – this is serious.

While so many are poor, we cannot say that we are a rich world. Rather, we are a world which has the capacity first to support everyone, and secondly to manifest the latent abundance of the world in ways which this generation cannot even dream of. – from the Global Swadeshi manifesto