How COTN Partners and Staff Solved a Water Crisis in the Dominican Republic

04/11/17

Two years ago, without any warning, water stopped coming out of the pipes in Don Bosco—an impoverished community in the Dominican Republic. 

Under the hot afternoon sun, the injustice of this crisis was visceral. “Water is life,” says Vladi Feliz, a COTN translator.

Vladi has family members who live in Don Bosco. When access to running water disappeared, residents were forced to walk more than half a mile to get water for their basic needs like cooking and bathing. Vladi says he’s seen kids carrying gallons of water over the dangerously rocky and steep community roads.

Don Bosco is a community built on top of several hills. More than 300 families live here and more than 250 children are enrolled in COTN’s Village Partnership Program in Don Bosco. With no access to water, these families are at great risk for dehydration and hygiene and sanitation issues.

 

When their water supply was cut off, Don Bosco residents had to walk long distances to buy water that was often not clean.

“Each day we try to use a little water because the water we use, we need to buy,” explained a father from the community who was walking home with a large container of water. He does this three times a day. Sometimes he purchases water from a truck. The truck is selling water that’s been syphoned out of a nearby river

At first, residents thought the disappearing water was due to rapidly expanding communities nearby. But as COTN staff began investigating, they found a severed water pipe partway down the hill. It was sticking out of the ground with water flowing from it like a drinking fountain. Not only had the pipe been cut, the water pressure from this pipe was much too low. They soon discovered the problem was more complicated than they first realized.

                                    Families used the severed pipe to fill their buckets.

The district had been suffering from a drought and was still months away from the rainy season. But the rainy season wouldn’t be enough. Over the years the rainy season has grown shorter. The aquifers are drying up. With less water in the aquifers, the natural hydrostatic pressure—pressure needed to push water up through pipes—has significantly reduced.

Don Bosco needed a quick solution—a well. Rob Slezak, a COTN partner who’s been on more than 10 Venture trips to the Dominican Republic, wanted to help. He offered to raise funds, including his own personal donations, to help drill a well. “We take it so much for granted,” Rob says. “We turn on the tap and it’s clean water. To be in a place where you have to go half a mile or a mile to get buckets of water, it’s unbelievable, it breaks your heart.”

But there was one last hurdle. COTN needed to consult with the local community water services about fixing the pipes or drilling a well. Thankfully, Francisco Tejeda, COTN’s Dominican Republic country director, knew the local director of community water services. He set up a meeting. 

 “It was a very chaotic morning,” Dave recalls. “But it had the feeling of normalcy, meaning, that’s just the way business was conducted. There’s always a lot going on … and [the water services director] was doing everything he could to stay out in front of it.”

The water services director knew about COTN and the broken water pipe in Don Bosco. Unfortunately, because water was still flowing out of the severed pipe, he couldn’t make it a priority or allocate time or resources to fix it. And, due to the depleted aquifers, he didn’t believe the water would even make it up into the hills.

The COTN school is on top of a hill. At the back of the property, down a steep slope, is a small jungle, pictured here. This greenery proved that, despite the drought, water could be found underground.

When the water services director learned that COTN wanted to fund and drill a well, he was elated. He promised to give them all the permits they needed. His only request was that COTN make the well accessible to the community. COTN was happy to comply. 

Thanks to Dave, Rob, COTN partner Dave Rubens, and others, a crew began drilling a well on the COTN school campus in Don Bosco. Just days before World Water Day (March 22, 2017), the drilling crew struck water. Soon the well will be fitted with a pump and Don Bosco will have clean, running water for the first time in two years! 

Just before World Water Day 2017, Dominican crews were able to find water beneath Don Bosco and begin supplying it to the local community through COTN's new well.

This new water supply will have several payoffs for the people of Don Bosco, says Cheryl Cuthbertson, COTN's director of sustainable practices. "It reduces the economic impact on household expenses that can now be used on other needs," Cheryl says. "It reduces standing water which reduces mosquito-related disease. The water in Don Bosco will be filtered so it is clean drinking water and reduces waterborne diseases. The funding from partners will also provide WASH [water, sanitation, hygiene] training to all of our students."

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Rob says about the new well. “It’s going to have such a rippling effect. Just that one thing, water, can have such an impact on a group of people.”

 

To hear the full story, listen to COTN's Beyond the Village podcast, "The Day the Water Stopped: How COTN Partners and Staff Solve Water Crisis in Dominican Republic."