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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Water Day - "Water is Life"

Today is World Water Day, an initiative that came out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro recognizing the critical role that water plays in peoples' lives.

Mano a Mano has been working in partnership with local Bolivian communities since 2005 on water projects. Water is critical; as the communities always tell us "water is life." One of our current water projects is constructing a large-scale agricultural water reservoir in Sancayani, Bolivia.

Over 3,000,000 of Bolivia’s 9,000,000 citizens live in rural areas. The vast majority of rural residents eke out a meager living as subsistence farmers, raising crops and a few domestic animals on one – two acre plots, and earning an average income of $200 - $300 yearly: less than $1.00 per day. The Cochabamba Valley essentially has two climatic seasons: a warm, rainy season during which rain falls nearly every day for three to four months, and a cooler dry season during the remaining months when moisture rarely falls. Lack of water during most of the year results in widespread failure of crops to mature and substantially reduces yields. In contrast, during seasons of heavy rains fields flood, washing away germinating seeds and spouting plants. Together, these problematic circumstances result in failure to meet the nutritional needs of the local farm families and make it nearly impossible for them to improve their standard of living.

Beginning in 1950, Sancayani farmers attempted to use their picks and shovels to dig a channel along the side of their mountain, hoping to direct spring water and snow melt to the land they cultivated, and thus increase their crop yields. Unfortunately, the area closest to them was filled with rock which they could not penetrate with hand tools. After numerous failures and a nearly disastrous landslide, they concluded that lack of engineering expertise and heavy machinery that could safely dig and stabilize the terrain would force them to abandon their dream of having sufficient water to raise crops to feed their families and sell produce in urban markets. Their Valle Alto neighbors told Mano a Mano staff that they had been trying for fifteen years to find a means to channel the abundant, high mountain spring water into the river so they could have water during the dry season. When these subsistence farmers heard that Mano a Mano had begun to build water reservoirs, they approached staff of Mano a Mano with a plea for help in constructing a reservoir. “Water is life”, they said.  “Without water we cannot live”.  

Sancayani is our largest reservoir project to date; when complete it will provide water for crops and livestock to 3,500-4,000 Bolivian families! This has been a very challenging project. The location is nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, with constant fog, mud, and sub-freezing temperatures. Our staff and 15-20 community members have been working for more than a year, with the reservoir scheduled for completion later this year.
Mano a Mano heavy equipment working on the channel to transport water to the reservoir

Sancayani residents working alongside heavy equipment on the channel
We have completed 3 large-scale agricultural water reservoirs and 160 atajados (mini-reservoirs) since 2005; these projects provide water to more than 13,000 people. Average family income has doubled or even tripled due to increased crop quantity and quality that access to water provides. In each project the community and municipal government are heavily involved throughout and have set up cooperatives and maintenance plans to ensure long-term sustainability. With our Choquechampi water reservoir project, community members dedicated more than 32,000 hours of labor during construction!

Community members passing rocks; completed reservoir

These water projects are essential to improving rural Bolivians' lives, and each of our projects has provided clear results by improving communities' food security and increasing crop yield, which allows them to sell crops in the market to increase incomes. Just as important, through our partnership agreements there is a clear plan for training, maintenance, and distribution of water to ensure that these projects last.

But the need is still great; there are many more communities that have asked for Mano a Mano to partner with them. As one woman told us:
We have good land but not enough water to keep crops alive. Our young men go to Spain to work because they cannot make enough money here to sustain their families. Now Spain doesn’t want Bolivians any more, so the men are coming home. But how will they feed their children? Our water runs away and the corn produces little or dies of thirst. We know that an atajada (water reservoir) would hold rain water to channel to fields as our ancestors did. Please help us again. You know we have ganas (motivation) and will work every day if you bring your machines and build with us. Then we could feed our children and sell the rest in the city.”  
If you would like to support our efforts in partnering with Bolivian communities on water projects, consider making a donation today on World Water Day.

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