Solar pumps yield clean water for schoolchildren in Leyte, Philippines

Powered by the sun and warmed by community spirit, solar pumps bring potable drinking water to elementary schools in remote villages in the province of Leyte. After a series of disasters that befell Leyte, UNICEF helped in setting up the solar-powered water systems in schools with no access to safe drinking water. ©UNICEF Philippines/2018/Archie Omega

On the outskirts of Tacloban City, Lorenza Daa Memorial Elementary School (LDMES) sits atop a hill. Over 200 students go up and down the rolling road to this school, coming from different villages in Tacloban City and the adjacent towns of Alang-alang and Santa Fe.

Grade 6 student Aira Dangkalan, 13, is all too familiar with the undulating trek to her school. “We’re used to this,” she said. But when it was time for her to help fetch water for the day’s use, she would look at the hill’s slope with much disdain.

“It was very difficult to fetch a pail of water there,” said Aira, referring to the steep trek to a well outside the school premises. But it was a routine that Aira and most of the older students at LDMES had to endure because of the school’s elevated location.

In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan damaged 90 percent of school buildings in Leyte, according to the Department of Education (DepEd). Several post-Haiyan rehabilitation efforts focused on restoring schools’ access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. With the help of UNICEF and non-government organizations like arche noVa and Samaritan’s Purse, the Leyte Metropolitan Water District (LMWD) installed solar water pumps in 95 schools, servicing about 30,000 schoolchildren.

The solar pumps were installed within rainwater harvesting systems for schools that are in off-grid, rural communities. In LDMES, rainwater harvesting was done by installing PVC gutter tubes on classroom roofs. Collected rainwater flows into a 7,000-liter cemented ground cistern. Solar pumps transport water from the cisterns to fill an elevated 2,000 liter water tank. Through the elevated water tank, enough pressure is created to supply water to the school’s hand washing facility and toilets.

Engineer Roy Urmeneta, LMWD water resource division chief, noted how the solar-powered water systems have also helped the communities. “Many residents really treasure the water systems,” said Urmeneta.

In the town of Tanauan, Maghulod Elementary School has opened its gates to villagers. Liezel Ada, a mother of five, is thankful that the school allows them to fetch water at this solar-powered water pump which they use for cooking and drinking.

Liezel recalled how a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in 2017 cut off the power supply in Leyte. The school’s solar-powered water pumps saved the day.

“It is difficult not to have water especially during a disaster,” said Liezel.

Today, residents are still allowed to get water inside the school for a fraction of the cost compared to traditional water vendors. For only two pesos per jug of water, residents contribute to the maintenance of the water facility.

“That is a lot cheaper than the cost of 40 pesos per jug in water refilling stores. We can already buy a kilo of rice with that amount,” Liezel added.

In other communities, local officials allocated funds in the village’s annual budget for the repair and maintenance of the water system inside the school. Residents living near the school have also volunteered to become caretakers of tapstands and regularly check them for water leaks.

Parent and school brigades were also trained on how to maintain the water systems. Gervacio Boco was an officer of the Parent Teacher Association in Maghulod Elementary School when he learned how to clean and fix the solar panels. “We tell the children to also take care of the panel. They should not be throwing rocks and other stuff onto the roof,” he said.

Now, more than ever, Aira values the importance of having access to clean water while in school. “With enough water, we can spend more time studying than fetching water from the well,” she said.

UNICEF believes in the potential of solar-powered water systems to increase the resilience of the poorest communities. UNICEF first introduced the solar pumps in 2015 particularly for disaster-affected communities in Leyte. Up to this day, schools and communities that have the solar-powered water pumps are very appreciative as nearly all water systems remain fully functional. It has enabled them to become less-dependent on fuel supply to power their water pumps, and maintain it at very minimal cost.

By Roel T. Amazona

UNICEF enjoins everyone to celebrate World Water Day on 22nd of March. The theme for 2018, Nature for Water, explores nature-based solutions to the water challenges people face in the 21st century.

For more information about UNICEF’s work in the Philippines, visit