Field Report: Engineers Without Borders Team Inspects ClearWater Systems In Ecuador, Day 3

Written by Mike G

Topics: Frontline Communities, Oil

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This is part three of a series. Read part one here and part two here.

Cofan Dureno day 2

After breakfast (white rice and yucca—again!) the women of the community laid out their finest wares for us. There was an amazing amount of beadwork on display—all of the beads being seeds that they dye different colors. It was the kind of stuff some crunchy hippie store in the US would sell you for $30-50, but the Cofan were selling for $1, or $3, some times $5, never more than $10 a piece. I overpaid as much as possible.

A few of my favorite pieces. I forgot to get any pictures of the Cofan women selling the jewelry, as I was entranced by the all the gorgeous beadwork on sale.

We spent the rest of the day touring more ClearWater systems. For everyone who has donated to ClearWater or supported the project in any way, here’s a video just for you. This is what it’s all about:

Here is a shot of RAN’s Ginger Cassady getting some water from one of the systems:

The tank on the left is the filtering tank, the one on the right is the storage tank. The water falls on the corrugated roof of the house, collects in gutters, and is then piped into the filtering tank.

We also spent some time that day looking at the community’s water system, built by PetroEcuador. Again, we saw a water system installed by an outside entity who provided no follow-up in terms of maintenance or repairs, and a community ill-equipped to do those maintenance and repairs for themselves. Gonzalo, one of the village’s ClearWater tecnicos (technicians), told us pretty much the same story that we heard in Rumipamba: the chemicals for treating the water ran out, and one of the pumps has stopped working but there are no parts to fix it.

Gonzalo explains the community water system to the Engineers Without Borders team.

This only further convinced the Engineers Without Borders team that devising a plan to fix these systems, as well as to provide the resources and know-how to the community to do proper maintenance on an ongoing basis, might be part of the solution to the water crisis they are facing. But there are still a lot of problems that come with the community water systems that would need to be worked out, not the least of which is the enormous amounts of money it would cost to fix and then maintain the systems on an ongoing basis. In the opinion of our engineer team, the rainwater catchment systems are still the most sustainable and effective solution.

Paul Friedlander (right, in dark hat), one of the engineers on the delegation, discusses what it would take to get the community water system back up and running properly.

The ClearWater systems we saw were all in good working order and much appreciated by the community members who had received them. But they’re heading into the dry summer months, and the Cofan, like the Quechua of Rumipamba, said they usually don’t get enough rain during the summer to keep their systems full. All the more need, it would seem, for some type of communal system to make up the shortfall.

At the end of a long, hot, sweaty Amazon day, it was incredibly refreshing to jump into the Aguarico river and wash off. I don’t think a swim has ever felt so good.

We were also fortunate enough to get to hear Marina sing. Marina says she is the last Cofan woman who knows the tribe’s traditional songs. She was a little shy of my camera, but her song is nonetheless absolutely gorgeous. I think it’s made even more pretty by the birds and insects you can hear chirping in the background.

It was our last night in Cofan Dureno, and I was sad to go because the warmth and humor of the Cofan was nothing short of amazing. Emergildo Criollo is an elder of the community, and was also one of our main guides for our whole trip. His passion and dedication, along with his humility and quickness to laugh, were truly inspiring. His community is still being ravaged by oil extraction after the oil companies first appeared 50 years ago, yet he is one of the gentlest and friendliest people you could ever meet.

Emergildo has a “champions page” on the ClearWater site. Go here to read more about the work he is doing with ClearWater and how you can support him.

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