Water & Development

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Because they live on the shores of the deepest lake in Central America, one might not guess that families in Santa Catarina Palopó struggle to secure enough clean water; however though speaking with women in the community I have found this to be true.

Nearly all women I have spoken with rely on municipal water to cook, clean, and drink. Some do not have their own municipal waterspout, so each day they haul water in plastic bottles from the spout of a kind neighbor or family member. All women who use municipal water either store the water or are prepared to find another source—like rain, the lake, or a cascade—because the municipal water regularly disappears for multiple hours or days without warning. Though the women call the municipal water agua potable (potable water), most recognize that they should not drink it because it contains “bugs.” Few families use water filters. Some have broken filters or filters that they no longer use because they can neither find nor afford the filter cartridge they were told to replace each year. Except for those few fortunate enough to afford purified water from the water truck, all other women boil the municipal water before using it to cook or drink.

The women in Santa Catarina Palopó speak of NGOs that come and go “without even learning your name,” who pass through their town por gusta (for pleasure). I watched a group give an “improved” cookstove to a family who already had one (though they still do not have a water filter); such groups often charge fees for their technologies or services to “add value” to their work and ensure that people will “take ownership” of what they receive. Would not a better solution be to form relationships with the families, to ask them about their lives and needs and learn their names? I feel proud to work with a group like Wuqu’ Kawoq that does just that—creates culturally and linguistically appropriate projects informed by careful research and in collaboration with the communities where they work.