Peru: Searching for safe water

Maray is a small rural village made up of 35 families, located in the Province of San José de Sisa, in the Department of San Martín, Peru. The community of high forests and poor resources sits on the Sisa River. Traditionally, the people have always relied on the river’s waters for their daily activities. Unfortunately, in recent years, the waters were contaminated following sewage disposal, a common situation in many localities of Peru.

Using the river’s water causes several diseases, from stomach upsets to skin infections, affecting children as well as adults and elderlies. Several requests were made to the authorities to find a solution to the problem; however, the response has proved insufficient. The San Martín EPS EMAPA has taken over the coordination, along with the municipality of Sisa, to implement a safe, running water project for Maray, a process that is too slow to alleviate the population’s urgent needs.

With this in mind, Jennifer Ramkissoon, a Uniterra Peru volunteer and the San Martín EPS EMAPA, set up the objective of establishing direct links with the population to identify the main problems related to the use of drinking water, while carrying out actions with various local actors in search of solutions.

One of the main difficulties encountered is that, notwithstanding the population’s recognition of the importance of drinking water, it still believes that its arrival in Maray will solve all their health problems, even though the people clearly dot not follow the best hygiene and sanitation practices. In fact, this is not only a problem of water supply, but clearly also a problem related to behavior, tradition and information.

It was decided to address the situation by carrying out training workshops during the months of January and February 2012. The objective was to promote changes in hygiene and sanitation practices through practical and fun activities. Three themes were tackled: water treatment and collection, best hygiene practices –particularly that of washing hands- and the safe disposal of human waste (stools and urine), namely by using latrines rather than relieving oneself in the wild.

Families were also offered plastic cans to collect water as well as disinfection material to use at home (bleach dropper) to encourage people to use safe water, pending the implantation of a running water system in Maray. Following the initiative of the volunteer, an in-house device was put in place to wash one’s hands: the Tippy Tap. This is made up of a plastic jerry can filled with water and suspended in the air between two poles; a system of levers made with sticks of wood enables the jerry can to be tipped up and to wash one’s hands without ever touching the jerry can, thereby reducing the risks of contamination. This device was greatly appreciated by most of the families who copied the volunteer’s model and set it up in their homes. Not only are there already results from the sanitary practices, but the trust bonds between the EPS staff (led by Jairo Bartra, the volunteer’s counterpart), the Health authorities’ staff and the population of Maray are being consolidated. The families have begun using home disinfected water in a sustained manner, a process that is being closely monitored.

The team is also continuing to promote dialogue and agreements between the population, the EPS and the Sisa Municipality to implement the safe running water system for Maray, as the actions like the jerry can, bleach dropper and tippy taps are only temporary alternatives; access to drinking water at home is a citizen’s right and the main long term objective still is the construction of a water treatment plant.