“Water is life. We cannot live without water.” Dona Martina, a subsistence farmer in Ucuchi, Bolivia, approached Mano a Mano with this grim problem and a request: “A large reservoir would hold enough rain water to irrigate our fields once the dry season begins. You saw our ganas (motivation) when we worked together to build a school. We will work hard every day if you build a reservoir with us. Then we could feed our children and still have enough to sell some in the city.”
Since Dona Martina and her neighbors made this request in 2005, our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo has constructed 9 reservoirs, plus 458 farm ponds and 42 surface wells. Each project gives farmers access to water for household use, domestic animals, and crop/garden irrigation.
COVID-19 Created New Challenges for Water Projects in 2020
Bolivia’s early nationwide stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel presented challenges throughout 2020. Fortunately, we completed a large 2019 Laguna Sulti reservoir expansion project in February 2020, before the pandemic halted much of our work.
Sadly, the city of Cochabamba and its surrounding farms are currently experiencing severe water shortages. Boris Rodriguez, our lead engineer, reports that the Angostura Reservoir, a major source of irrigation water for farmers who supply food to the city, is not at optimal levels, even though the region is in the midst of the rainy season. (Heavy rains in January have helped refill local reservoirs, but to varying degrees.) In contrast, Mano a Mano’s Laguna Sulti reservoir is already 80% filled with seasonal rain and mountain runoff. The contrast stands as a testimony to its strategic location and good design. We plan to deepen another section of this reservoir in 2021.
Clean Drinking Water for Rural Communities
Safe drinking water is a scarce commodity throughout rural Bolivia. News of Mano a Mano’s upgraded capacity to drill deep wells (since 2019) traveled quickly throughout high Andean rural communities. We received well requests from 19 communities within about 3 months and drilled 4 before the pandemic arrived. As COVID restrictions lightened later in 2020, we re-initiated our deep well drilling projects, beginning in the community of Tajamar.
Moving the drill from one site and re-assembling it on another created the next delay but one that assured the community that we would not abandon the project. When drilling began and we hit solid rock again, everyone was determined that, no matter what, Pucarans would reach the promise of clean drinking water. Mano a Mano purchased a different type of drill bit, one that would cut more slowly and thus took much longer to drill, but was less likely to break. Then, after several days of slow drilling through 90 meters of rock, success! Now, over 100 families (about 600 people) have clean drinking water, plus water for their domestic animals and family fruit and vegetable gardens.
No Time to Rest
While the pandemic prevented travel into rural communities during much of the year, Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo staff devoted much of their time to repairs and maintenance of the heavy machinery used to build reservoirs and roads. Their Cochabamba repair shop includes the space and basic tooling where its six mechanics spent much of 2020 making sure that machines are ready for their next assignments. Jimmy, our principal welder and machinist, has worked for Nuevo Mundo for ten years. His co-workers say that he “makes old things new”.
Thanks to everyone who helped fund these projects; who donated tooling; who hauled, packed, and loaded tools into containers; and to all staff and volunteers in Minnesota and Bolivia that make these projects happen in spite of the challenges!