By David Lazar

Facing economic catastrophe due to a growing water shortage, nomadic herders in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia reactivate inoperable wells.

With a population of about 2.5 million, the country of Mongolia is situated in East Asia, sandwiched between northern China and the southern Siberian region of Russia. It is a place where humans and animals live on the knife-edge of environmental sustainability, suffering extremes of temperature and an arid landscape dominated by the Gobi Desert. Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital city on Earth, with temperatures that range from 90°F in the summer to -40°F in the winter.

Nomadic herders run out of water
Nomadic herding is one of the central ways of life in Mongolia. Cashmere, hides and meat products are major sources of foreign cash revenue for this unique country. After the fall of communism in 1991 and the privatization of livestock, herders chose to grow the numbers of their herds under the ‘get rich quick’ spirit that dominated the newly freed market economy. As a result, the traditional respect toward nature and rational use of resources that was the basis of nomadic pastoral life suffered.

According to a recent newspaper article from Mongolia, “The extremely hot temperatures that persisted for about 20 days killed more than 100 head of sheep and goats of herder Mr. O. Bataa. About 20 horses also died. Experts concluded that the animals died from dehydration.” An economic initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve the lot of the Mongolian herders and the country’s economy at large ran right into the water supply problem. According to Larry Cerrillo, a hydroge-ologist sent to Mongolia to analyze the situation, “The agency couldn’t do very much to help the sheepherders if there was inadequate water supply.”

A major source of the water supply problem was caused by the breakup of the Soviet Union. When the Russians abandoned Mongolia in the early 1990’s, they left thousands of antiquated well pumps with no way to procure spare parts or maintain their operation. Cerrillo noted that the Mongolian herders began to sell the broken pumps to the Chinese for scrap metal. “So what we were left was basically a hole in the ground,” Cerrillo explained, “In many cases those were filled in by rocks and were not usable. However, there were many wells that had the potential to be put back on line.”

According to one report, more and more rural Gobi wells are being destroyed or vandalized, largely because the state-led privatization process in the countryside has not clearly stipulated who would own wells, who could use them, and who would be responsible for their maintenance and repair. Fred Clise, export manager from Goulds Pumps Water Technology Division recalled, “There are thousands of wells that formerly received their spare parts and maintenance through the Soviet Union. Now when the pumps break down, the herders can’t get water out of the ground.” Clise noted that there are a variety of well depths, ranging from 30 feet to over 200 feet. After his initial survey, the hydrogeologist, Larry Cerrillo was sent back to Mongolia as a consultant for Land O’Lakes, Inc. This U.S.-based agricultural company provides contract services for governmental organizations such as USAID to implement and manage aid programs. In fact, USAID has working relationships with more than 3,500 American companies and over 300 U.S.-based private voluntary organizations.

Upon his return to Mongolia, Cerrillo identified approximately 40 well sites for rehabilitation. Although there was no modern drilling equipment to be found in Mongolia, Cerrillo said that these sites were redeveloped to the point where they could be set up with pumps again. ”We looked at solar and wind power. It turned out the most economical way to supply water was a submersible pump with a small generator. With the broken well pumps, the sheepherders had mostly hand dug wells and they were using buckets to get the water,” Cerrillo said.

Goulds pumps recommended for harsh conditions
As an independent hydrogeologist working in the mountain regions of Colorado, Cerrillo had good experience with Goulds pumps and recommended them for service in these Mongolian wells. The company supplied a total of 26, 50-cycle, GSZ model well water pumps. These 4 inch-below-ground pumps are designed for residential and small municipal and agricultural water supply as well as light irrigation applications. “The GSZ is our basic, global submersible pump. The one thing with our submersibles is that there are almost no spare parts needed, with the exception of motors and starters, said Clise.

Clise noted that one of the big issues facing the runlife of these pumps is the extreme cold temperatures of minus 30 to 40°F. For this type of application, frost-free hydrants were required as well as making sure that the water lines were not going to freeze. “We decided to use frost-free hydrants that would leak back into the well when the pump was shut down, and to run garden hoses from the frost-free hydrants to actually fill the tanks for the sheep,” recalls Clise. In addition to the pumps, Goulds Pumps supplied the frost-free hydrants and fittings, the drop-cable, and the motors.

Providing the technology for a frost-free well is extremely important in this area where herd animals may need watering three or four times a week and where it takes hours of hard work to produce enough water from a frozen well. The GSZ pumps were ordered in August of 2001 and were shipped to Mongolia the following September. Installation was staged throughout the countryside over the following 18 months.

Changing lifestyle for nomadic herders
Lori Anderson, a senior project officer for Land O’Lakes, notes that because of changes taking place in Mongolian society as well as the water shortage, the nomadic herders are reevaluating their lifestyle. In one recent news article, a herder said, “We had to settle near an existing well, and in order to be able to water the livestock we have to get up at five o’clock in the morning and stand in a line at that well. Sometimes we have to spend the whole day at the well waiting for our turn. And when the livestock of the last person in line make it to the well, there is often no water left. That herder’s livestock are then left without water for two to three days.”

”There are tremendous problems with degradation of the range land,” Anderson said. One of the results of this degradation is that animals are being forced to graze in smaller and smaller areas. “With wells breaking down, there are fewer and fewer places herders can go to get the animals watered.” Taking a broader view of the water problem, Land O’Lakes is helping to tackle problems such as repairing, rehabilitating and maintaining the wells and helping the herders form grassroots regional cooperatives.

A drop in the bucket
While the 26 well water pumps from Goulds began the process of assisting water-starved regions in Mongolia, there is much more to be done. In one economic report on Mongolia, only one in five wells remained operational out of total 24,600 built throughout the previous 40 years.

About the author
David Lazar is a freelance writer for ITT Fluid Technology and other publications. He can be contacted at ITT Fluid Technology, Inc., c/o Bjorn von Euler, 10 Mountainview Road, 3rd floor, Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458; email [email protected]

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