The other side of the coin: when there is no water

Living without water or losing agricultural crops due to water scarcity is not a distant problem. It is more common than people think and happens in southern Chile, which paradoxically gets the most rain out of all regions in the country.

One fact: 71% of homes in the rural areas of the La Araucanía region do not have potable water according to the latest CASEN Survey.

After verifying this serious situation, Desafío Levantemos Chile along with CMPC continue to work on the “Water for Chile Challenge” with the goal of providing this basic service to communities in the Biobío and La Araucanía regions.

The CEO of CMPC, Francisco Ruiz-Tagle, explains that, “the Water for Chile Challenge not only helps people improve their quality of life by having water directly piped into their homes for daily consumption, but they can also improve their income. Several mechanized irrigation projects are underway that will enable increased crop and greenhouse production”.

The Executive Director of Desafío Levantemos, Nicolás Birrell, states that, “we work everyday at our foundation on finding efficient solutions that will support and elevate various communities. The Water for Chile Challenge is of vital importance to us because not only will we provide potable water access to various areas of the La Araucanía and Biobío regions, we will also provide them tools for development, employment and growth. I hope this project continues to expand, and we can help change many lives”.

It is estimated that the first stage of the direct potable water supply program will benefit more than 200 families, a bit more than 1,000 people. So far, 88 families have received this benefit in the communities of Marileo (Lautaro), Saltos de Chancahua (Collipulli) and Calcoy-Liucura (Lumaco).

What is it like to live waiting for the supply truck or rainfall? Teresa Colipi Cayumán of the Calcoy area and Patricia Campos of Chancagua discuss how they have designed artisanal methods of potable water supply by using the techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation and what they expect from this new impact on their quality of life.

A lifetime of hauling water

The José Cayumán community in the Calcoy area obtain their daily water supply from a local watershed. Here, water is transported by gravity and it descends through channels or flumes made of wood. This is how water travels through fields that have access to a watershed. Water availability in summertime declines because it travels over the surface area.

But now this community along and its neighbors in Liucura are seeing how the watershed runoff travels through PVC pipes underground, which helps keep the water fresh, clean and available in the middle of summer.

Teresa Colipi Cayumán is a homeowner with two children. Her husband works as a logger at a forest harvesting plant. Teresa asserts that her life in the country is excellent. Despite the lack of connectivity and the daily water transport with buckets she believes that living in rural areas provides a peaceful life that is ideal for raising her children. She teaches them to care for nature and water resources that can be scarce.

“We didn’t have any water by February. There’s just a tiny flow in the morning and it matters what kind of tank you have. I planted a garden two years ago that dried out. It is sad to live with water shortages. You can’t even have a small garden plot because you have to prioritize drinking water, cooking, dishes and laundry. Carrying water means you waste time. It’s a sacrifice and you have to be strong even if you’re not young anymore. You end up tired”, said Teresa Colipi.

She added that, “having water supplied to home will be very good for the women in the community. It’s changing our daily life a great deal. Water is very important for human beings. In the countryside we teach our kids how important it is. There wasn’t much awareness about it in the past or else we just got used to obtaining it through a lot of hard work. Water is vital for humans in every sense of the word. By having it on hand we can do more things at home like planting a garden for family meals or for healing illnesses. There’s been no pandemic here. We’ve watched it from afar”, said Teresa Colipi who very soon will hang up her buckets as a memento.

Hope for the berry patches of Los Saltos de Chancagua

The “Water for Chile Challenge” initiative aims at ensuring communities have water for human consumption. It is also focused on making sure that those communities working in productive activities have water for their crops. These small businesses often help provide the necessary family income throughout the year.

That is the case for Patricia Campos Vásquez, born and raised in the area of the Los Saltos de Chancagua community where she is the president. In 2015 Patricia accepted a berry patch project (promoted by CMPC) without any prior knowledge, but with the conviction that such a project could give her the opportunity to provide income for her family.

Looking around at her land, Patricia Campos remembers that at first nobody wanted strawberries, only raspberries and blueberries. “We started from nothing. As of today now with just the money from the strawberries we feed ourselves pretty much the whole year. My family will harvest between 100 and 150 kilograms per day, several times per week. We sell at farmers’ markets and now people come to our house to purchase them. And since this is now a key activity for us, water is essential for sustaining it. We cannot prosper without it”, stated Patricia Campos.

She added that, “with the new direct water supply, we’ll have a more permanent irrigation system and we can increase our production to 200 kilograms per day. This will help us even more over the winter, and we’ll also have water piped into our houses.”

In any event, she pointed out that, “water is the most important thing right now. It brings joy. The majority of the wells are dry. Climate change has affected all parts of Chile so water is a resource we have to protect. Water is life. Everything dies without it”.

Many families in Los Saltos de Chancagua have vegetable crops and small fruit trees, a central activity in their lives. The water shortage had them worried until the water supply plan came along. This essential project is ready to launch and will benefit 23 families.