Comunidad America is a remote village, three hours’ drive from the nearest town of Riberalta, in north east Bolivia. The community is made up of colonistas (people who have moved to the area in the last 30 years) and indigenous tribes. During the wet season the road is often flooded, rendering the village even more isolated. Basic facilities are scarce and the community subsists mainly on fruit trees and fishing. The village houses – built from bricks or thatch – are situated around the edge of a field, which is about the size of two football pitches.
The villagers survive on two meals a day, usually consisting of plain bread and tea for breakfast, followed by fish and rice for supper. The fish however, are caught in the nearby River Beni which is heavily contaminated with mercury and cyanide from gold mining which takes place upstream. Occasionally, the community’s diet is supplemented with pacca and agouti (rodents which are hunted with bows and arrows).
A water system was constructed by the local municipality in 2006. It comprises a well and a solar powered pump system which delivers water to an elevated concrete tank; this in turn feeds a distribution pipe network. Unfortunately, the well contains rotting timber and attracts parasites and mosquitos. The water drawn from the well is also dirty and full of rusty iron particles, which causes health issues – particularly for the children in the area. The scarcity of clean water also means that many of the local children brush their teeth using water from the cyanide polluted river.
Leishmaniasis – a disease which can be fatal within two years if left untreated – is also prevalent in the area. The team even came across a one year old girl with the infection, who was in a terrible state.
What We Did
In September 2012, Just a Drop – together with the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) – constructed a sterilisation unit to clean the water in the tank and installed a chlorinator and electrical pump to dispense the correct doses of the sterilising agent. A small building to house this equipment was constructed at the base of the water tower.
The work was undertaken by Engineer Alfredo Terrazas from the contracting organisation Sumaj Huasi and was overseen and supervised by Just a Drop’s President Col. Blashford Snell and our Project Engineer Julian Butter.
The clean water will improve and enhance the quality of life for the 100 people in the village and may encourage more of the young people to remain there, rather than leaving to live in Riberalta.
A doctor on the expedition held a clinic in the village to treat people with Leishmaniasis. The new water supply should ensure that future cases of the disease will be significantly reduced.
The community is proud of their new facilities and committed to maintaining them well. In fact, they have nominated one of the villagers, Teodoro Katequari, to take charge of looking after the entire system. The chemicals required to sterilise the water are expected to cost the whole village around US$5 every month. They can be easily bought from Riberalta and as some of the villagers work in the town, they have agreed to purchase them as and when they are needed.
Just a Drop will continue to monitor and report on the effectiveness of this project over the next seven years.
Date of Project: October 2012