Tobeta Village is a remote village in the Orellana Province of East Ecuador with around 55 inhabitants from the Waorani Tribe. The village lies on the very edge of the Yasuni National Park, astride a compacted gravel road used by international oil companies.
The word ‘Waorani’ in the Wao language, means ‘people’. But to Ecuador’s predominant indigenous group, the Quechua, they are Aucas, ‘savages’. Indeed, there is much about their life-style that would invite the label. They have no writing, no reason to count higher than ten and no history other than a tribal recollection that their ancestors came from “downriver long ago”.
The Waorani has traditionally had minimal contact with the outside world. They roam naked in the jungle, hunting monkeys and birds with wooden blowguns and curare-tipped darts; for pigs they use spears. Roads cut into the Waorani’s hunting grounds have been populated by colonistas and people of other tribes eagerly seeking land. The Waorani are very much aware that they are in danger of losing their culture and worried about the destruction of the abundant sources of food and natural medicines on which they depend.
Today the Waorani are increasingly threatened by Western ways and diseases. In many areas their water systems have been polluted by crude oil and chemicals, and by heavy metals, as a result of irresponsible practices in oil drilling and mining. For this reason the community urgently needed clean drinking water.
There is a shallow creek 245 metres from the village, on the other side of a steep wooded hill. (Other water sources in the area either dry up in the dry season or are on disputed land). The creek is shallow but as the oil company supplies the village with electricity, it was agreed that electric pumps could be used to extract water efficiently.
In September 2012, with the support of Just a Drop, John Blashford Snell led a team to install a clean water system in the village. This involved excavating a sump in the creek and pumping water through distribution pipes back to the village. A timber platform was constructed by the creek and two 2HP electrical pumps and a marble sand screen filter were placed on it. From the creek the water is pumped back to the village via distribution pipes via filters and chlorinators to purify it and then into the two 1500 Litre storage tanks at the top of the hill overlooking the village. It is estimated that the pumps will produce 40 to 120 Litres per minute. From the tanks, clean water is distributed to each dwelling – and the school – via distribution pipes with taps.
Local people assisted the contractor in excavating the deep sump and the village women cut trenches to take the distribution pipes to their homes. When the water started flowing from the taps the women and children were particularly delighted because they no longer have to risk snakes when they collect water.
- The clean water will improve and enhance the quality of life of the people of Tobeta. Water-borne diseases were a significant problem and common complaints included gastrointestinal infections, diarrhoea, parasitism, respiratory infections, kidney disorders, skin disease and anaemia. Malaria and conjunctivitis were also present. It is hoped that the incidence of these health problems will now be reduced due to access to clean water.
- Previously, the time taken to collect water from the creeks and carry it back up to the village was around an hour and so having water supplied direct to their houses will have a significant impact, especially for the women.
- Clean water, from an efficient system may encourage more of the young people to remain in the village. A water supply was also provided on two plots where more dwellings are planned in the hope that more Waorani will be encouraged to settle in the area.
The villagers were given instructions and training to maintain the water system efficiently. This consisted of the initial training of four members from each community whilst the equipment was installed and then a further two days of training.
Village meetings were conducted to discuss the sustainability of the system. It was agreed that each family would pay $5 per month to pay for the diesel and any repairs that might be needed. This money would be collected and managed by a committee. Evidence shows that this gives communities more ownership and responsibility for the system which makes the project more sustainable.
Our thanks to The Association of Women Travel Executives (AWTE) for helping to make this project possible.
Date of Project: October 2012