Getting water from a sick Pacha Mama

تم النشر: 22 نوفمبر 2004 0:00 CET

Fernando Nuño in Cotahuma

“Pacha Mama seems angry with us,” says mother of six Claudia Paz, using the name for Mother Earth name in her Aymara language.

Community leaders in Cotahuma, a district in the outskirts of La Paz, thought the same when Bolivian Red Cross technicians showed them analyses of the water they consumed: 80 per cent of the samples contained cholera.

It is in this polluted water that Claudia is washing her laundry, just as many of the other 97,000 inhabitants of Cotahuma do.

“Some time ago it was also used for drinking, because it was the only water available,” explains Amparo Maldonado, Red Cross community health programme coordinator in the district.

The Bolivian Red Cross has worked in Cotahuma for the last six years with the support of the International Federation, the American Red Cross and the Spanish Red Cross.

Its comprehensive intervention includes community health, water and sanitation, mother and child care, sexual and reproductive health, disaster preparedness, and family and juvenile violence prevention programmes.

With the support of the Spanish Red Cross, the Bolivian Red Cross has installed chlorination stations all around the district, a system that neutralizes the micro-organisms found in the water.

"Residents’ health has improved substantially. Children were the most affected by the low water quality. Now we feel reassured," says Juan Carlos Machacas, one of the district leaders.

To contribute to the sustainability of these systems, the community has created 47 cooperatives to look after the stations. "These cooperatives have been useful for improving people’s health, but, in addition, the community is now more organized and the level of communication is good," says María del Mar Rodríguez, Spanish Red Cross regional delegate for the Andean region.

The Bolivian Red Cross also implements an Integrated Management Childhood Illness (IMCI) programme, supported by the American Red Cross, assisting about 10,000 children under 5 years of age. The dissemination of key prevention messages is carried out through 14 health posts.

Amparo Maldonado is today meeting Cotahuma’s local leaders to talk about the IMCI, developed by the Red Cross with the participation of the Pan American Health Organization and the Bolivian Health Ministry.

“A common feature of all the programmes is that they integrate the community. More and more, solutions emerge from within,” she says.

Training since childhood

Though the IMCI programme is mainly developed in the health posts, it also has activities in schools and kindergartens. "Games and songs with children are a part of the family hygiene training," points out the educator, Frida Conde.

After a follow-up at several health posts, the group of volunteers finish the day in at an integration centre for at-risk young people that the Bolivian Red Cross has in Cotahuma. This centre hosts workshops on sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS prevention, family violence, self-esteem development and leadership training.

At the entrance to the centre, Juan Carlos Machacas, one of the district leaders, is waiting for Amparo. They must meet to review recent achievements in monitoring the water chlorination stations.

As he waits on a hill, he watches the sun set over Bolivia’s capital city.

When Amparo arrives, Juan Carlos has prepared some words of gratitude. "The continuous work of the Red Cross in the district, makes us think that we are not so far behind the development of La Paz," he says.