Celebrating World Water Day Every Day!

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director 

World Water Day is an important day in a long list of significant calendar dates, sharing the same week with International Day of Happiness, International Day of Forests, and The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For those organizations that work with water, we know how critical it truly is as an element and necessity of all life on this planet. “Agua es vida, or water is life;” that simple yet profound phrase is uttered in communities across the Americas that have less water than most. It‚Äôs a statement and a refrain that captures the full awareness of the delicate nature of life and our total dependence on this one element.

At Trees, Water & People, we seek to expand on that awareness through programs that support enhanced water access in communities throughout Central America and the US. This year in Central America, our efforts with water will focus on rainwater catchment tanks in the Cordillera¬†(mountain range) de Montecillos in the highlands of central Honduras. Our local counterparts, CEASO (Center for Teaching and Learning Sustainable Agriculture) were assisted by several TWP work trip participants this past January. CEASO’s philosophy towards water is holistic and profound; they see the importance of the forests, the soil, and the other elements existing in a balanced cycle that keeps our natural world healthy and able to support rural communities.

Rainwater tank
Work tour participants worked together with CEASO to complete a rainwater catchment tank!

In El Salvador, a country ravaged by deforestation, our counterparts at √Ārboles y Agua para el Pueblo diligently work to keep their nursery humming with new plants, which will go towards diversifying a smallholder plot or anchoring trees and their roots to a critical watershed. In Guatemala, our partners at Utz Che look to build rural resilience and increased access to water for marginalized indigenous and campesino communities in all of the geographic zones of the country.

La Bendición, our special exchange community that has hosted two recent TWP work trips, seeks to find solutions for their water woes by capitalizing on the old coffee plantation infrastructure that they hope can be transformed to provide the community with more robust water security during the dry season. Here in Managua, work continues at NICFEC, the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy, and Climate, which will serve as a demonstration center for best practices and methods to maximize water conservation and soil management for sustainable agriculture in a changing environment that is projected to see fewer rains in the future.

La Bendición
Community members of La Bendición working to repair old coffee plantation infrastructure to increase their water security.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the region, there are additional stark reminders of the critical importance of water. M√©xico City continues to sink due to continued overdrawing of its aquifers, the number of planned resorts for Costa Rica¬īs booming Guanacaste region is in jeopardy due to a lack of available water, and here in Nicaragua, the land of the large freshwater lakes, many communities south of Managua face an acute shortage of water and virtual dependence on water distribution trucks.

In the United States, TWP stands with the Water Protectors of Standing Rock in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Over this past winter, we provided off-grid solar heaters and generators to provide warmth and energy to the protest camps. These camps are the frontline resistance in a struggle for critical water and natural resource sovereignty. All of our strategic partners are focused on water, and we at TWP are striving to find ways to boost our water-related projects as we continue to hear how critically important it is for the survival of our communities.

Examples abound across the globe, and these stories of water stress are reminders that we must continue to focus our efforts on conservation, education, and innovation to stem the looming water crisis. If you would like to support these Central American communities protect and improve their water resources, please donate today!

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Notes from the Field: Healthier Communities Through Composting Latrines

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

composting pit latrine base
The base of a new composting latrine and of a healthier community!

Five families – a total of 20 individuals – received a new dry composting latrine in El Porvenir, El Salvador, thanks to a generous grant of $3,100 from Catapult supporters.

Eliminating common pit latrines means cleaner groundwater and a more hygienic conditions in the home, leading to a lower disease burden in these communities. The latrines were built in collaboration with the beneficiaries, who provided rock for the foundation, cement mortar, and sweat equity during the construction of the latrine.

Furthermore, the local municipality donated the pre-fabricated concrete slab floor and the molded concrete toilet seat, while TWP provided the cement blocks, the wooden frame for the structure of the bathroom, the metal sheet for the walls and roof, and the vent pipes. Funds were also used to hire skilled laborer, to supervise the construction, and to train families in use and maintenance of the latrine.

Risks and challenges

Having managed international development projects for over 15 years in Central America and the Caribbean, Trees, Water & People is no stranger to risk and challenges in our work. However, our unique methodology of requiring a community cost-share and sweat equity from beneficiaries increases investment and involvement from all stakeholders, and thus increases our odds of implementing projects with lasting benefits.

building latrine_Colonia Izaguirre Tegucigalpa
Construction of new composting latrines

The biggest risk in this case, mitigated by experience and close supervision by Trees, Water, and People implementors, is building the structure in compliance with El Salvador’s Health Ministry standards for composting latrines.

Due to the community’s organization and cooperation, the project was completed before deadline, all families are 100% switched over to their new latrine, and the old pit latrines have been filled for the last time.

Up Close

new latrine composting pit latrine
A new composting pit latrine

I had a chance to visit a prior installation of 10 dry composting latrines in this region of El Salvador, and the testimonies and tangible signs of change were palpable.

This region is tropical and volcanic, with regular seismic activity, episodes of torrential rains and a high water table. During big rain events, the ground gets completely saturated, and all pit latrines are flooded, leaching excrement and pathogens onto open land, into agricultural fields, and into drinking water supplies.

The structures that conceal the conventional latrines are typically a few torn bedsheets, shower curtains or cardboard, and people are often ashamed to show them to you. In contrast, all latrines I saw were kept very tidy and odor free, and people were extremely proud to show them off. From looking at the images attached to this report, you can see why this is such an important change to people’s lives.

Next steps

The five latrines that we set out to build with Catapult funds have been completed and are in full use. We are continuing to coordinate with the municipality about additional households we could serve with the same methodology, and are actively looking for donors to support this important work.

Notes from the Field: Composting Latrines Improve Water, Soil, and Health

by Claudia Menendez, International Program Coordinator

 

Here are some before and after photos of latrines in El Salvador. Our latrines are composting latrines with 2 compartments: one side is in use at one time. When it becomes full the other side is in use, giving the full side 6-9 months to decompose and dry up. When side B is full side A is cleaned out by shoveling the humanure or compost out of the compartment; the mixture is then used as soil or tilled into fields. And the cycle continues!

So far we are part way through the first cycle. We have asked the first 10 families of the pilot project to stop using Side A and allow it to decompose and dry so that we can make monitor the drying cycle and clean out process.

These latrines will have long-term improvement on community health by reducing  soil and groundwater contamination and related parasitic diseases.

How Does a Dry Composting Latrine Work?

The dry compost latrines consist of two chambers made of concrete cinder blocks with a toilet seat, including urine diverter, placed over each of the chambers.  After each use, stove ash, compost, and/or sawdust is added inside the chamber to reduce odors and keep the chamber dry. It also includes a vent to allow fresh air to circulate and further dry the solid matter.  After one chamber is filled it is left to dry during six to eight month periods while the second chamber is in use. The contents of the first chamber are then transformed into a rich fertilizer that can be used on surrounding crops or trees after a drying period under the sun and mixed with a 1:1 ratio of earth.  One dry composting latrine can serve families of more than six people for over 10 years with proper maintenance.

Happy World Water Day 2011!

Happy World Water Day! Today, and in many cases everyday, people around the world are working to bring attention to the importance of fresh water, the key to our survival, as well as advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

Planting trees directly contributes to the long-term health of a communities watershed.

At Trees, Water & People, we work to maintain watershed health by planting thousands of trees in Central America and Haiti each year.  We are dedicated to helping communities sustainably manage the natural resources upon which their long-term well-being depends.

From the official Word Water Day website:

This is the first time in human history that most of the world’s population live in cities: 3.3 billion people …and the urban landscape continues to grow.

38% of the growth is represented by expanding slums, while the city populations are increasing faster than city infrastructure can adapt.

The objective of World Water Day 2011 is to focus international attention on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems.

This year theme, Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge, aims to spotlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively engage in addressing the challenges of urban water management.