We recent took a road trip of sorts, traveling up to the highlands of Cochabamba to drill a water well in a rocky valley and to do a little more research for our new water filter project. We were contacted by a fellow missionary, Craig Oliver of SIM, who is helping provide clean water to Quechua communities in the Vacas municipality of Cochabamba. He would like to drill wells manually in this area, but wanted us to come in first with our equipment to see if it was possible before he invested to much of his time and resources in the project. I was pessimistic after seeing a narrow valley surrounded by rocky ridges at over 12,000 feet in elevation. A number of families had already successfully made hand-dug wells up to about 10 meters deep and Craig was hopeful we could penetrate the ground with our manual drilling system. The first attempt was not successful. In four or five different locations we hit rocks within the first couple of feet that we could not drill through. On the second day we drilled into an existing 6 meter hand dug well and were able to drill to about 14 meters without hitting any more rock. This greater depth will allow the family to pump water throughout the dry season, providing clean water for both consumption and for the irrigation of a second potato crop each year. So it looks like if Craig and the families of Vacas can get passed the top layer of rocks they will be able to successfully drill wells down into the deeper water aquifers and will have access to good clean water year round.
A second reason for our trip to Cochabamba was to speak with the staff of Food for the Hungry (a Christian relief and development organization), who had completed a pilot project with Sawyer filters in Cochabamba to study the health
benefits of using water filters. The study was completed in a peri-urban squatter settlement where the residents do not have access to the city water supply. They have to purchase water from private companies who truck it in on a daily basis and sell it residents for $5.00 to $7.00 a week (10% to 20% of an average family income). There is no guarantee to the safety or cleanliness of the water they purchase. The drivers say they get the water from deep wells or other clean sources, but the residents say the water often smells of fish and they know it is unsafe to drink. I personally saw these tanker trucks pumping water directly from a filthy river flowing through the middle of downtown Cochabamba. Two years ago Food for the Hungry distributed 1100 filters to project participants and trained them on how to use and maintain the filters. They found that after four months of use, the occurrence of diarrhea in children under five years old had decreased by more than fifty percent.
While we are certain of the link between clean water and better health, we weren’t so certain that people would change their old habits and continue to use the filters after the study ended. Jason and I went to the project community and interviewed Karina, a local FFH staff member, and also a number of families who began using the filters two years ago. Even though Sawyer guarantees the filters for 1,000,000 gallons, we were doubtful that families would actually perform the regular back-washing necessary to insure long-term functionality. We were pleased to find that the majority of families who received filters through the study were still using them consistently and reported marked improvement in their families health. Karina said many new families had moved into the settlement since the study and that there was a tremendous need for additional filters in the area.
We in Agua Yaku are excited about this new phase of our water project and cannot wait to get the first shipment of filters in from the U.S. The Bolivian paperwork is almost completed and we will soon be an official importer and distributor of Sawyer filters in Bolivia. A donation of $80 will help us provide a family in Bolivia with clean water for up to ten years.