Cecilio Martínez, Guatemalan Red Cross, in Camotán
A plan for a modern, piped water supply in some deprived areas of Guatemala was one of the many infrastructural casualties when Hurricane Mitch tore through the Central American isthmus nearly four years ago. The need had been identified long before the hurricane struck, and some construction work had actually started. Mitch ended the dream.
But now, thanks to a partnership between the Guatemalan and American Red Cross, 1400 people in the municipality of Camotán - one of the poorest in the east of the country - have a safe, piped water supply.
Forty-two kilometres of pipe, thousands of work hours, numerous coordination meetings and the active participation of the people of the beneficiary districts of El Guayabo and Filincas resulted in a new domestic water supply for nearly 300 houses in Camotán.
This water and sanitation project that the Guatemalan Red Cross began two years ago, with the support of the American Red Cross, is part of the reconstruction and development work being undertaken in Guatemala after the devastation caused by the Hurricane Mitch - possibly the most destructive natural disaster in the region in the twentieth century. The American Red Cross has been active throughout Central America in the countries affected: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.
The El Guayabo and Filincas communities, in the east of Guatemala bordering Honduras, have economies based in agriculture; so in designing the water and sanitation project it was crucial that the operation not be allowed to interfere with the annual sowing timetable - the beneficiaries themselves helped with the work on the 'watsan' construction tasks. They were compensated with a full family food ration in return for each day's work.
According to the Guatemalan Red Cross, it wasn't just a matter of laying more than 40 kilometres of pipe and hoping for the best. The work was much more complex than that. In this case specifically, as in many other projects supported by the American Red Cross, coordination, dialogue and participation involving the beneficiary communities were all vital, as well as the active participation of the municipality of Camotán. The achievement was more than just drinking water and latrines. It included raising awareness about the necessity for continuing sanitation work and training to take care of the water supply.
From now on the communities are responsible for assuring the distribution of water and maintaining the piping. It is also the responsibility of the beneficiaries to continue with the training for correct use of the supply and the latrines.
The American Red Cross has completed or is supporting water and sanitation projects in several dozen communities throughout Guatemala. These projects occur in all kinds of terrain such as mountains, valleys, mangrove swamps and the Pacific coast. Some of these water systems were damaged by Mitch. Others are brand new projects bringing water and latrines where they never had any before. Each location presents its own challenges.