Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines on 8 November 2013, causing widespread destruction and killing more than 6,000 people.
Typhoon Haiyan brought the strongest winds ever to be recorded on land, killing around 6,300 people in the Philippines. Even now – two years later – massive reconstruction programmes are still under way in the country, with thousands of survivors thought to be homeless.
In this time of reconstruction comes a remarkable project started by a group of young people in Singapore. These MBA students, from the National University of Singapore (NUS), have been working to provide sustainable sources of clean drinking water in areas destroyed by Haiyan. Their Tolosa Water Systems project has begun installing a series of solar-powered water pumps to re-establish access to clean drinking water cross the country.
Julian Ragragio is a member of the four-person student team behind the project. He was inspired to take action after friends working in areas of extreme poverty highlighted a desperate need for clean drinking water.
“Local people have had to walk to open, shallow-dug wells that are highly contaminated and take this water back to their houses in containers,” Julian said.
“This water is prone to germs and disease.”
After meeting like-minded students within his MBA course in Singapore, Julian and his team decided to use the skills taught in their course to find a solution to the water crisis in the Philippines.
These management skills helped the project work efficiently and enabled the team to deliver maximum value with minimum resources, Julian recalled.
The students’ project became a reality when they partnered with Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT) – or Wellspring of Science and Technology – a Filipino NGO specialising in off-grid renewable energy.
They also received a grant from the oil and gas company Total S.A. to help kickstart their venture. Each water pump costs roughly $4,000 USD (£2,658 GBP) each, while a complete system with a generator and piping costs $20,000 USD (£13,289 GBP).
“It’s expensive, but fitting a pump deep into the ground provides much safer water. We hope that the pump in Tolosa is the first of many to be installed in the region.”
Since the pumps utilise energy generated by solar panels some unique challenges arose, but the team managed to overcome every hurdle.
“There are limitations from working with solar energy, primary of which is the availability of sunlight. At night, you do not have power to run the pump,” Julian said.
“The most efficient way to get around this problem is not to store energy in batteries, but to store water in an overhead tank. As long as you are pumping enough water during the day to provide for requirements at night, you’re good.”
The idea for the project was formed while he was working at a company, before starting his MBA. The company had been working with a German partner who ran projects dedicated to donating solar-powered pumps at no cost.
Julian explained: “We were tasked with identifying potential candidates for these donations. We succeeded in identifying two candidates, but I never actually saw these projects bear fruit. More importantly, there were a lot more candidates lined up, especially in typhoon-devastated areas.”
“When I got into the MBA programme, I saw the potential to continue this project as a student.”
Aside from partnering with SIBAT and receiving funding from Total S.A., Julian and his team have also been working with San Gabriel Industrial Solutions, a subsidiary company who implements solar pumping projects in the Central Philippine Islands. The company is undertaking design reviews and project management responsibilities for the student-led Tolosa Water Systems project.
Julian’s ultimate goal for the project is to set up a template for pay-per-use solar pumps, which would act as a case study for bankable solar pumping projects where a pump could be financed by a development fund. He hopes, if this is successful, the team can then replicate the project across multiple towns.
On advice for other young people who wish to set up similar projects in their communities: Julian recommended getting a reliable NGO partner which would be able to work effectively on the ground. He also suggested forming a team with people who are “better than you”.
Finally, Julian advised that thinking ahead would greatly benefit ambitious young people.
“Keep scalability as a priority. Once you answer the questions ‘What needs to be done? What can I work with? What else do I need?’, ask yourself ‘How can I expand once the project is finished?’ That will give you an idea of what and who to look out for.”
“Generally, position yourself ahead of time so you can work on tomorrow’s goals while getting reliable people to work on the present timeframe’s priorities.”