2021 was the year of focus on water projects for our Bolivian counterpart organization Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo. In spite of the pandemic, political unrest, and the perennial challenges present in the rural areas where we work, Nuevo Mundo completed two major Laguna Sulti Reservoir expansion projects and drilled six deep wells last year.

2021 Reports for Other Mano a Mano Programs

Mano a Mano Completed Two Major Water Reservoir Expansion Projects in Laguna Sulti in 2021

Reservoirs become the life blood of the community, irrigating fields whose fertile soil produces abundant crops if they receive water. The goals for these projects are two-fold:

  1. improve the food security and nutrition of rural families;
  2. expand their economic potential by producing crops that can be sold in urban markets or in other rural communities.

The design of the Laguna Sulti Reservoir lends itself to expansion. As farmers draw down reservoir water during the dry, crop-growing season, portions of the broad, relatively flat reservoir base are exposed. These areas become available for dredging; increasing their depth allows the reservoir to capture more water. The two 2021 expansion projects doubled the Laguna Sulti Reservoir’s water holding capacity. As a result, more water is available for each water cooperative family, and more families can enroll in the cooperative.

Mano a Mano Has Completed 9 Large-Scale Water Reservoir Projects in Rural Bolivia

In total, Nuevo Mundo has constructed 9 water reservoirs and subsequently expanded two of them. We find that Bolivia’s subsistence farmers have strong motivation to remain in their communities on land that they own, as long as they have a predictable water supply. With reliable water they can raise a more diverse and nutritious diet. The health of the community improves. When crop production increases, most families have enough to eat and some to sell. With every Mano a Mano water project, we have seen similar results. Everyone benefits. Nearly 85,000 people now access water from these reservoir projects.

In 2012 Mano a Mano dedicated a large water reservoir project in Sancayani, Bolivia. Sancayani is a rural community in the department of Cochabamba high in the Bolivian Andes – about 14,000 feet above sea level.

Deep Wells Provide Potable Water, a Rare Commodity in Rural Bolivia

Lack of clean drinking water presents major health challenges for rural Bolivian families. Extreme lack of access to any drinking water compounds these challenges.  In 2017, many rural Andean communities had no local access to drinking water during the months of August through November. In order to continue living in their communities, families had to purchase trucked-in water at an average cost of $170.00 per family for the four-month period ($42.50 per month). Average annual family income in most of these communities ranges between $300-$400. Families had to spend half of their average annual income for 4 months of water.

In response to requests for help in drilling deep wells, Nuevo Mundo purchased drilling equipment that has the capacity to drill deep wells through the rock structure of the Andes. This equipment can drill wells to a depth of 340 meters (1,115 feet), drawing clean water for household use, and for watering domestic animals and family gardens. The set-up and drilling process are complex and time-consuming.

Drilling a Deep Water Well in Rural Bolivia: Step by Step Photos

Transporting our well drilling equipment from Mano a Mano’s Cochabamba warehouse to the well drilling site

Positioning drill at site

Building channel to guide slurry to holding pond

Water and slurry holding ponds

Drill in place at Chirusi Rosario site

Mixing bentonite

Channeling slurry into pond

Grooved PVC pipe ready for installation

Preparing gravel

Machine operators and local residents watch intently as water begins to flow

Flushing the well; this process can take several days

Completed well in Pucara

Nuevo Mundo Drilled Deep Wells in These 6 Communities in 2021:

Working on the deep water well in Chaupi Suyu – March 2021.

  1. Pucara
  2. Chaupi Suyu
  3. Chirusi Rosario
  4. Villa Rosario
  5. Pampa Grande
  6. Punata Central

Punata Regional Complex

Banner honoring Epifanio Velasquez at Laguna Sulti. This is part of the Punata Regional Complex project.

Two of Nuevo Mundo’s 2021 water projects, the Laguna Sulti Reservoir expansion and the Chirusi Rosario well, are encompassed in the Punata Regional Complex, Mano a Mano’s high priority project for 2022, 2023, and beyond.

Water is Life

Water – “the briny broth of our origins, the pounding circulatory system of the world…We stake our civilizations on the coasts and mighty rivers. Our deepest dread is the threat of having too little – or too much.” – Barbara Kingsolver, “Fresh Water.” National Geographic, April 2010.

Echoing these sentiments, subsistence farmers from Bolivia’s drought-plagued Andean communities approach Mano a Mano with requests for help in gaining year-round access to water. “We know that you help with many different kinds of projects” they say, “but, for us, the most important is water. Water is life. Without water we have nothing. We cannot live.” We work to partner with these communities in need on the projects that they request.

Toro Toro Airstrip Completed in 2021

Although water projects occupied most of Nuevo Mundo’s staff time last year, we also completed a significant airstrip project in Toro Toro.

Dedication brochure for the improved runway in Toro Toro, Bolivia, completed in May 2021.

Given Bolivia’s sparse and hazardous road structure, aviation often becomes the only means of safely transporting emergency patients to urgent care in Cochabamba or Sucre. This airstrip becomes an essential component of the health care system. We also anticipate that, when the pandemic recedes, thousands of tourists will use air transport to visit Toro Toro’s nearby Parque Nacional. Watch the video below from a Mano a Mano flight to Toro Toro in September:

Nuevo Mundo initiated a second airstrip project last year: the runway that will serve Mano a Mano’s Aviation program when it moves to the Punata Regional Complex. The sub-base of this runway has been formed with a clay/dirt/sand mixture dredged from the bottom of the Laguna Sulti Reservoir when it was deepened last year. Though this runway requires further surfacing, it is already usable for small aircraft.

Heavy Equipment Repair & Maintenance

What makes it possible for Mano a Mano to take on challenging projects of this size and complexity? A highly trained and dedicated work force, and the right machines/tooling make a huge difference.

The Mano a Mano Model: Partnerships & Hard Work

Community residents working alongside Mano a Mano’s heavy equipment.

All Nuevo Mundo projects follow the model that Mano a Mano has applied since inception. Every Mano a Mano project is a partnership with a community. The community, their municipal government, and Mano a Mano all have roles and responsibilities to make these projects work:

  • Mano a Mano defines the projects and brings the partners together;
  • Participation of community residents is critical from the beginning to the end of the project; in 2021 residents contributed a portion of the required funding and 12,600 volunteer hours to their projects while maintaining distancing required by COVID restrictions;    
  • Municipal governments contributed another portion of the funding and collaborated on engineering design;
  • Nuevo Mundo staff designed and implemented the project, with volunteers assisting with 6,910 volunteer hours;
  • Mano a Mano staff in the U.S. raised funds for the projects, shared information with donors, and coordinated work with their Nuevo Mundo counterparts.

Every single project has many obstacles and challenges along the way. We are grateful to the many people that come together and work hard to complete projects that none of us could do on our own, and have a big impact for communities for many years to come.

Mano a Mano staff and heavy equipment onsite at the Laguna Sulti water reservoir expansion project, 2021.

Learn More About Mano a Mano’s Economic Development Community Projects

Each of Mano a Mano’s five counterpart organizations started as a pilot project, “living” in the home of that organization’s founders until it was firmly established. When our new office building on the outskirts of Cochabamba is finished, each organization (including Nuevo Mundo) will have accomplished a major milestone: each will have its own permanent space.