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Chuñawi, Hydraulique Sans Frontière and the search for water

November 27, 2017


6.30 am, the cab is trying to drop me off at the bus station in Cochabamba without success. I do the last meters by walking. Even at this early time, traffic jams are already all over the city.


With a heavy heart I  just have left the family of Magui and Edmundo, their kids, Dany, Mauricio, Gabriela and their grandson, Javier. For two months, they have been my shelter and have offered me the warmth of a close, beloved and affectionate family, while I was living thousands of miles away from my folks.


Arriving to the counter at 6.55 am, I learn that the next bus for La Paz is at 7 am. I quickly buy my ticket and run outside the station to catch the bus. Five minutes later, I say my last goodbyes to Cochabamba and start my seven hours journey to reach the Capital and to meet Nadège, Yves, and their two kids, Camille (5 years old) and Louis (3 years old).


This joyful French family, that I have met at the Carmen Vega School, is travelling for six months in South America. For three weeks, Yves, a member of the association Hydraulique Sans Frontière (HSF), has been working as a volunteer in Chuñawi : a small village of Aymaran farmers in the Bolivian Altiplano, between the lake Titicaca and La Paz. The goal of the mission: connecting five water springs to the grid to solve the water shortage of the region  


A Little Magic

I only stayed seven days in Chuñawi, with Yves, Nadège, their children and our host family, Jaime, Marie-Sol and their three children… But the kindness, the generosity, the hospitality of our hosts, the long discussions with Nadège, the games with Camille and Louis, the silent presence of the old lama in the courtyard, the effort made during the harvest of potatoes with the entire family of Marie-Sol, the following of the HSF project, the endless rains which made nights freezing… I still remember all these little moments of daily life vividly to this day.


From this journey, I keep the memory of the simplicity of shared instants, the softness of the discussions, the beauty of Nadège, Yves, Camille, Louis, Marie-Sol, Jaime and their kids.


A National Issue: The Shortage of Water

The week, I spent at more than 4100 meters above sea level, allowed me to better understand the issue of water shortage in Bolivia, especially in the Real mountains.


In 2016 they lived through the strongest drought of the last twenty-five years. From shortage to shortage, all the big cities had been affected and had suffered from water cuts and rationings during several weeks. Hundreds of thousands of farming hectares were lost, hundreds of thousands of households were impacted, hundreds of thousands of cattles were affected.


Despite the strength of it, the drought in 2016 was not a special phenomenon. It was merely an uprising of Nature in a series of similar events caused by climate change.   


Raining seasons, initially from December to the end of February, tend to start later and become shorter. This delay creates a lack of harmony with the cycle of the crops: no water when they are sown and too much of it when they need to be harvested.


A Water Challenge And A Local Solution With International Support

To answer to this challenge, the association Hydraulique Sans Frontière has been working with the village of Chuñawi for years. During drought season, which lasts four to five months, the only spring of drinkable water of the village is not enough to cover their demand. Furthermore, their demand is increasing due to the growth of population and an increasing demand for water for the irrigation. The consequence: water cuts already start in the morning and become the rule rather than an exception.


A study done by Hydraulique Sans Frontière identified five new springs of drinkable water. They started with the water catchment in March 2017. During the next phase they will connect these new springs with the existing distribution network. Furthermore, they would like to implement a dam to facilitate water access especially for the irrigation systems used to water plots.


Great progress has been made these last years. Soon, the burial of pipelines will begin. HSF and Chuñawi continue to invent solutions concerning this issue. An issue which will have stronger and stronger impacts in the future.

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