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Focus on Latin America

October 2011

Water, Water Everywhere, But...

PhotoA JICA financed well in the Bolivian Andes

High in the Andes mountains life has been a constant battle for survival for 39-year-old Eugenio Guzman. He makes a modest living as a tin prospector and farmer. Home for his family is a simple, windswept mudbrick adobe home.

Similar, crumbling and abandoned nearby houses underline the uncertainty and hardship on the surrounding mountain plateau.

But life suddenly became a lot easier for Guzman and his neighbors in Bolivia's Carbuyo village last year when a wind-driven well was sunk adjacent to his house. A huge water tank was built and pipes installed to all nearby houses.

For the first time, these rural dwellers had access to regular, fresh and safe water. "We have never had constant water before," Guzman said. "It is transforming our lives."

Bolivia has plentiful reserves of water. But for several reasons—some of its rivers are polluted, glaciers are disappearing because of climate change, underground reservoirs are difficult to exploit, communities are located in isolated regions—many of the country's nearly 10 million population have lacked access to safe and regular water supplies.

JICA has worked for many years with Bolivian authorities to overcome these problems in a variety of ways. The agency also works with other Latin American countries such as Peru which face similar headaches.

According to JICA expert Yoshinori Fukushima since 1998 an estimated 4,500 of the country's 28,000 rural communities representing 70% of the population have received help.

Sinking Wells

PhotoTesting for safe water

Fukushima, an ethnic Japanese born in Bolivia, said nearly 4,000 shallow and deep wells ranging in depth from a few meters to 420 meters have been sunk. Huge water tanks were built and solar or wind power systems installed to provide power.

In the latest joint project which began in 2008, nearly 300 deep and shallow wells are being dug annually and although JICA's direct participation is scheduled to end in 2011, Fukushima said the government is expected to continue the schedule.

Small-scale enterprises have been established. In Sora village, for instance, a newly established bakery sells home-made loaves to locals and profits support a recently installed water system.

A JICA-supported laboratory in the mining town of Oruro analyzes water from any newly dug wells.

"Sure, at times we find ‘bad’ water, too high in salt or minerals," Jorge Lizarazu Blondel, a JICA regional coordinator said recently. "If that happens we close the well immediately."

The importance of even a simple well was highlighted during a recent visit by a JICA delegation to the town of Socamani. Virtually the entire community turned out for the visit, including local and regional officials, the school band and most of the 400 primary and high school students.

PhotoDrilling a new well

In addition to providing the town with water, the school now receives running water—free.

"Yes, we had water before, but only for a few hours a day," one town official said. "Now, it is almost 24 hours a day. The new well has helped reduce pollution and water related diseases, particularly among the children."

Some enterprising homes have even installed greenhouses, and locally grown onions are now marketed as far away as the United States.

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