May 2009 Newsletter - Water Projects

With water projects a major focus for our work this year I thought it would be good to write in some detail about the projects we have in progress.

Background

Clean water is essential for life. Here in Nicaragua, as in most of the developing world, increasing numbers of people have little or no access to clean water. Traditionally the rural populations rely on hand dug wells, springs and rainwater for drinking and cooking. Most urban areas have some sort of municipal water supply. However in recent years deforestation and other climate changes have lowered the water tables in many areas drying up many wells and springs. Groundwater also has become contaminated from pesticide or manure runoff. Increasing urban populations overtax municipal supplies and there is no tax base or bonding mechanisms that would allow a city to improve its water supply. In many urban areas it is common for water to be unavailable for days at a time. Lack of clean water forces thousands to use contaminated sources of water increasing the risk of all types of illnesses. This is especially critical for children and the elderly.

Our Plan

Portable drilling rig in action in Masaya

The problem of water supply is a long term issue. With that in mind we are taking a long term view toward integrating water projects into the ongoing work here. Water projects are an ideal complement to our church planting and leadership training work. As a critical need it provides a visible project that we as Christians can rally a community to seek a solution.

We are currently training four men as technicians to carry out water projects. This strategy is in keeping with our focus on skills transfer to equip the church here to meet long term needs.

Currently we are focusing on two different types of projects: 1) drilling new wells, 2) repair of existing water systems. A portable drilling rig has been purchased shipped to Nicaragua. It is newly out of customs and we are drilling in Masaya. The community of Marias Grande, near Somotillo will be the next drill site. Both sites have been surveyed and have organized community members to help with the drilling. The Somotillo site is also a place where preachers and leaders come for Leadership training seminars. We try to prioritize places where we are working with local churches as a way to broaden the impact of the preaching. Las Marias especially needs the water as now they get their drinking water from a creek that runs through a cow pasture.

Since so many communities need water projects the best strategy is to point everything we do toward a locally sustainable model whereby Nicaraguan Christians are trained to use what is readily available to meet the needs at hand. Investing time in pump fabrication has been a good way to use our time while we repair the drilling rig because what good is a well if you don’t have a pump?

Currently we have completed one repair project in the Miskitu tribal community of Limbaika and have done the necessary ground work for two other Miskitu communities, Alamikamba and Tasba Pauni. These projects are training exercises for our technicians as well as meeting real needs. We will return to the tribal areas on 26 May to install pumps in both communities.

The repair projects take advantage of existing wells that can be verified as productive. Many organizations have drilled wells over the years and often we find a well that just needs a pump to put it back in action. One of the projects we are working on with the water technicians in training is fabricating simple hand pumps from locally available materials based on public domain designs developed by the United Nations, Hydromission LLC and others.

The Preparation

Before any drilling or repair projects can begin there is some organization in the community that is essential. No matter how simple a water system is, there is a certain amount of maintenance that has to be done. Also in these small communities the “local politics” of who has rights to the water can be pretty intense. We spend some time talking to the local leaders both elected officials and representatives from the churches to be certain that 1) the community can organize to care for the completed project, 2) all members of the community will have access to the water, and 3) that the project is seen as an outreach of the church in Christ’s name and 4) that the community is willing to contribute a reasonable amount of labor toward the project’s completion. The fact is the actual process of drilling and installing pumps is the easiest part, the community organization part is much more difficult.

The Obstacles

Hand pump built and installed by Harvest Center Water Team
The single biggest obstacle is the remoteness of the areas. With the exception of the drilling site in Masaya, all the areas targeted are at least a full day’s travel one way. It is the paradox of ministry that the more difficult the area the greater the impact of even the simplest of projects. We are finding that the current government has made such a big propaganda campaign promising water, education, and health care for free that many communities simply would rather wait for these promises to come about than make even a minimal effort to organize. Most folks realize that the government is really in no position to fulfill their promises but the lure of something for nothing is very persuasive. We are thankful to Harvester Christian Church and other donors for the opportunities to serve by meeting a basic need in Jesus name.

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