Tag Archives: Lubutu

How to make a simple fuel syphon with valve

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If you need to transfer fuel from a barrel to a jerry can, or from either of those containers into a fuel tank, but you don’t have a fuel pump on hand because you’ve been waiting six months for the supplier to send it to you (I won’t name names), then you’re stuck using a syphon to transfer your fuel.

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The simplest form of syphon consists of a rubber hose and your mouth. You insert one end of the rubber hose into a barrel of fuel and suck on the other end until you’ve got the fuel up near your lips. Next, you quickly remove the hose from your mouth and insert it into the jerry can opening. If the level of the fuel in the barrel is higher than the tip of the hose in the jerry can, gravity will pull the fuel in the hose down into the lower jerry can. As this fuel falls into the jerry can, the space it occupied in the hose needs to be filled which forces fuel to come up through the hose from the barrel.

The fuel will keep flowing until the level of fuel in the barrel is lower than the end of the hose in the jerry can (e.g. if you lift that end of the hose up, or if the level of fuel in the barrel drops far enough). It’s very common for fuel depot staff in developing countries to use their mouths in order to syphon fuel into jerry cans or vehicles in this way, but it’s not a healthy practice – doctors definitely do not recommend filling your mouth with fuel every once in a while, which happens frequently when syphoning fuel.

So, how to reduce this problem with very limited supplies available? A syphon with a valve is one partial solution: stick a valve on one end of your syphon hose, leave it in the open position, insert most of the hose into the fuel barrel, close the valve, then pull the hose until the valve end is below the level of fuel in the barrel. Point it into a jerry can, open the valve, and the fuel will start flowing. This works very well until the barrel becomes about 3/4 empty, at which point it’s a bit tough to get enough fuel in the hose to take advantage of gravity’s pull without any suction. So, if you don’t have a pumping mechanism then you still need to use your mouth once the fuel level becomes lower. Still, a syphon with valve reduces the amount of mouth-powered syphoning by about 75-80% which is a big improvement while waiting for a real fuel pump to arrive.

Testing with water from one barrel to another:

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Three staff members in Lubutu impressed that this actually works:

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Close-up of the syphon valve. Once we had created between the valve and hose a sufficiently airtight seal to establish that the syphon actually worked, we added a very short section of hose to the other side of the valve to insert into the jerry can or fuel tank, which reduced the potential for spillage:

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What you need to make a simple valve-operated fuel syphon:

  1. 1.5-2 metres of PVC reinforced hose (if you’re forced to use a section of unreinforced hose, you may need to strap something on to it to prevent it from kinking)
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  3. 1 ball valve with a connector diameter roughly the same as the hose
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  5. 2 nipples (this is the official plumbing term!) with threading that matches that of the valve
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  7. 2 screw/band hose clamps with diameter slightly larger than the hose
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  9. 1 roll of teflon tape
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Then put it all together:

  1. Cut a 10-15cm length from one end of the hose for the ‘pouring’ end
  2. Wind teflon tape several times around the threads on one of the nipples, then screw it into the end of the valve; do the same for the other nipple
  3. Slide one of the hose clamps loosely around one of the nipples
  4. Insert this nipple into the long length of hose; this may take a fair bit of force if you’ve chosen nearly equal diameters – twist the nipple clockwise as you push it in
  5. Once the hose is connected to the valve in this manner, slide the hose clamp into position a few millimetres from where the hose meets the valve, and tighten the clamp as much as you can using a flathead screwdriver
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 above for the short length of hose on the other side of the valve
  7. Test your new syphon with water; if the connection between hose and valve is not airtight, the water will simply fall back down into the water container as you lift the hose out.

Of course, as we put this together, I never mentioned to the guys that adding a plastic funnel to the long end of the hose would turn this contraption into a standard university beer bong

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Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell – Part 5b: More Construction and Rehabilitation

While I was in Lubutu as interim logistician from May 19 to June 11, I had the lucky chance to oversee a number of improvement projects being carried out on the office base. While the main focus of any humanitarian is on the community in which he/she is working, it’s important to remember that the national and international staff managing the program need to have a functional and safe working space.

One project involved hiring a subcontractor to rebuild the paillote (thatched-roof hut) that protects the 13kVA generator. Without a good, rainproof shelter, a very expensive generator could be badly damaged or destroyed by one of Lubutu’s unbelievably heavy mid-afternoon downpours, leaving the base with no source of electricity.

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The finished product, tested several times in the weeks that followed:

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We got another subcontractor to build a new hut for the guards, because it’s not very fun to work a 12 hour shift after being soaked to the bone:

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Another project during my stay was increasing the security of the base by building a new brick wall at the front to replace the bamboo fence and increasing the height of the brick walls on the sides of the base. These are four photos of the same section of wall; the first two were taken from inside, the last two from outside:

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A leaking building can be problematic if you’re using computers for most of your work, keeping binders of archived documents for donors on your shelves, and vital medicines in your storage rooms. Since there were many leaks in the office roof, the landlord agreed to replace it and Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) agreed to supervise the work. It was ridiculously loud but it was important work.

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Back to the walls – after the bricklaying was done, the walls were plastered with cement as you could see in two of the photos above. Following this, a tyrolienne was used to give the walls texture (I don’t know if this has any practical application, but it sure looks nice!). That metal machine – the tyrolienne – shoots out thousands of tiny drops of cement onto the wall as the worker winds a handle on the side of the box.

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Paint comes next, white and green to suit Merlin’s organisational image:

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An ultra-smooth area was created on which to paint an organisation logo and spraypainted before the logo was added:

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A shiny new roof and a bright new wall:

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Final touches – adding a hand-painted Merlin logo for visibility:

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It was really neat watching as the different improvements on the base were carried out and it was a good learning experience as I was able to ask lots of questions to our rehabilitation logistician and the different workers pictured in this post.

Well, that’s the last of my “Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell” posts. If you want to read some stuff written by someone who knows a lot more about what he’s talking about, check out Michael Keizer’s well-written blog on humanitarian logistics and other aid-related stuff: A Humourless Lot. He offers good insight in a writing style that’s very accessible.

Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell – Part 5a: Construction and Rehabilitation

Depending on the organisations by which they’re employed, and the projects to which they’re assigned, humanitarian logisticians may become involved in construction or rehabilitation projects. People with civil engineering backgrounds and some management experience often make very good humanitarian logisticians for this reason. I studied international relations, politics, and French for my bachelor’s degree, and humanitarian work for my master’s degree, but I used to party with civil engineers (and all the other kinds of engineers) at UBC so I can pretend that I know a bit about all this stuff.

This is a typical centre de santé (health centre) supported by Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) in Obosango which is in the Lubutu health zone of Maniema Province in the DR Congo:

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This is a maternity which is in the final stages of being rehabilitated by Merlin in Osso, which is also in Lubutu health zone. The funding for the rehabilitation came from JOAC (Jersey Overseas Aid Commission), while funding for the medical support (drugs and medical equipment, trainings, staff incentives, etc) for almost all of Merlin’s activities in Maniema comes from DFID (the UK Department for International Development).

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The facilities in Osso, as you can see from the previous two photos, are a notch above those in Obasango. If there was money to rehabilitate the more than two dozen structures in the Lubutu and Obokote health zones, it would probably be done, but with the funding available two structures were chosen for rehabilitation and two for construction from scratch. These buildings are built using fairly simple construction methods.

Sand and gravel are donated by local communities and transported by Merlin to the construction sites, where cement powder provided by Merlin is mixed with the sand, gravel, and water to make cement for the foundations. Sand:

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For the walls of the buildings, clay soil is donated by local communities and turned into bricks using brick presses, then baked in brick ovens like this one:

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Once the bricks are ready, the walls start going up along the contours of the foundation as in this maternity being built from scratch in Omoyaki, in Obokote health zone of Maniema:

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The brickwork for the Kabakaba maternity starting to go up:

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This is the maternity in Mukwanyama, which is nearly finished being rehabilitated:

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Once the building is finished, the brick walls are covered with cement-based plaster, then painted. The second photo in this post shows what the plastered and painted walls look like at the end.

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At each structure supported by Merlin, a signboard is erected to let people know what the building is for, and who is helping support it:

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Of course, there are many, many problems that come up with building or rehabilitating buildings in places like the DR Congo. For example, the community usually needs to help with a certain amount of free labour. Sand, gravel, and clay are needed and if these were not donated by local villages the work would be far more difficult. Communities don’t always understand the usefulness of a health centre, and may even oppose the disruption that construction or rehabilitation can cause to their villages. Various levels of local government may try to impose harsh restrictions that prevent NGOs from working efficiently. If construction workers, masons, and roofers are brought in to do some of the work, the local community may become upset that local villagers are not being given the opportunity for paid employment to work on the project. When community members are responsible for part of the project, such a making and baking the bricks, they may simply not do it because they feel they need to spend their days tending their crops.

For all of these reasons, and many more, construction and rehabilitation projects can easily stumble or even fail completely. The two foundation photos of Omoyaki and Kabakaba (above), for instance, show halted works – the villagers had stopped working several weeks before for a number of reasons. In the photo below, the foundation of the Lubao centre de santé in Kailo health zone is barely visible. All that greenery you see is growing where the floor should be. This foundation has lain untouched for two years.

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In order to avoid problems like this, and to keep construction and rehabilitation projects moving along, a lot of community sensitisation is necessary. Staff members are needed to explain the importance of health for the local populace. These community sensitisers spend time in villages, often staying several nights at a time, motivating the community. With good sensitisers, the work tends to go relatively smoothly, and the sensitisation continues even after the buildings are completed so that the population actually uses them too.

Humanitarian Logitsics in a Nutshell – Part 4: Water

Water is generally considered the most important thing for human survival, so it makes sense that water plays a central part in humanitarian work. Humanitarian agencies need water for their staff and their projects, and the people they try to help need water to survive and maintain their health. Medical organisations and local hospitals and health clinics need large amounts of water to maintain a sanitary working environment.

Locating water sources, treating water that isn’t fit to drink, storing water, and distributing water are all jobs that frequently come under the responsibilities of a humanitarian logistician. Here are a few photos that show a little bit about water:

Storing water can be difficult. One method is to construct water towers, or place large tanks on stilts. The reason for putting them way up high is to allow for distribution using the natural pull of gravity. If the water storage points are at ground level, pumps are needed all the time for distribution. With tanks way up high, pumps are only needed to fill the tank. This water tower supplies water to the hospital in Kindu, the capital of Maniema province in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

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Another form of water storage is a water bladder. This is basically just a big bag, which can be transported on a flatbed truck from the filling point to the distribution point. They can be punctured, which means they need to be carefully placed. This bladder at the MSF-Belgium hospital in Lubutu, DRC is hooked up to a hose with a valve. The bladder is on a raised platform in order to use gravity to pump the water through the hose when needed.

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On a much smaller scale, water can be filtered and stored in filters like the one in the photo below. Water (preferably boiled and cooled) is put into the top half and the lid is put back on. There are ‘candles’ made of some sort of porous material in the top half, and in order for the water to get to the bottom half, it has to pass through these candles. The porous material filters out all the bad stuff, and drinking water comes out the little tap at the bottom. These filters can have from one up to five candle filters in them, and each candle can filter about one litre of water per hour. So the larger models with five candles can produce about five litres per hour. We usually use these for expat staff houses as well.

The water filter on the shelf in this photo is in a health clinic supported by Merlin in the Lubutu health zone in Maniema province, DRC:

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Water has to come from somewhere. Natural springs, groundwater, and wells are common sources of water for humanitarian projects. Rainwater can also be a source of water depending on the location and season. While people often use surface water such as lake water and river water for their needs, this has a much higher likelihood of causing health problems because of the low quality of surface water.

This is a natural groundwater source that was rehabilitated by Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) in a community called Pu Muzika in Obokote, DRC. The water source was already being used, but Merlin dug up the soil and created a natural filter using various sizes of gravel and sand, then covered it over again. They also created this concrete enclosure with a concrete storage tank and water pipes. The slab of concrete on top of the tank can be removed in order to insert chlorine to treat the water. This is done every few months, and the water that comes out of the three pipes is as good as anything that comes out of a Canadian tap.

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This is a water pump that pulls water up out of a well in the Sanzasili community of Lubutu, DRC. It was also a Merlin project. Note the concrete block at the base of the metal pump:

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This photo was taken a week before the previous photo. Note the lack of that concrete block. Over time, the force exerted on the pump had worn away at the concrete that held the pump in place. It then fell a couple feet into the well. The community used bricks to prop it up in order to keep using it:

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We were informed of the problem, and immediately went to the site to assess the damage and make an action plan to fix it. In addition to the pump issue, we found that we could barely get to the pump without falling into the mud. I barely managed with a few long leaps, but there’s no way it could be done with a 20kg jerrycan of water. The community members coming to get water were wading through mud that could go up nearly to their knees! They reported health problems associated with this, including ticks.

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We decided that, in addition to fixing the pump itself, we needed to make the water source more accessible to the community. To fix the pump problem, our rehabilitation officer made a rebar (the iron used to reinforce cement) cage and placed it around the pump, then put a wooden box around that. The wood held the pump at the correct height, and on a chosen day when the community knew the water would be temporarily unavailable, cement was poured into the wooden box. The ratio of cement powder to sand was much higher in this mix than usual, to create a really solid block.

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Mike, the project coordinator, told the rehabilitation officer that within 5 days he wanted to return to the site and walk all the way to the pump without getting his shoes wet. In order to make this possible, truckloads of laterite soil were transported from another community, and daily workers filled sacks with the soil and placed them in a row where they had cleared the brush.

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To deal with a small stream that was contributing to the mud swamp, a very strong bridge was built (there’s no point trying to stop water, as water will almost always win a fight against humans; it’s much better to find ways to get around/over it than to try to stop/divert it).

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Once the sacks of laterite have all been filled and placed, loose laterite will be placed on top so the sacks won’t be visible anymore, and the path won’t be slippery even in wet weather.

Sadly I have no photos of rainwater collection methods. Rainwater is collected at the Merlin Lubutu expat house, as it runs off the roof into gutters which feed into a 1000L water tank. When it’s been raining, the water coming out of the tap is clear. If it hasn’t rained in a while, water is brought from the Moyo River and pumped into the tank. This water is brown and has stuff floating in it. In this photo, water has been brought from the Moyo River to the office and is being pumped from a 1000L tank into barrels using the little diesel water pump in the bottom right corner:

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