Harvesting Rainwater

"No one could have imagined that we would have a tap providing water inside our homes.”

By: Sandra Esquén
Agua en Manco Capac
01 February 2019

In Manco Capac, rain falls from the sky in abundance. Children are not afraid of it. On the contrary, they celebrate its arrival. They lift their heads up to the sky so the rain falls on their faces and they spin around, playing. But this celebration is not only for girls and boys. For some time now it is also a celebration for adults. Alcides Ramirez was a Municipal Agent for this community and every time he sees the sky darken he knows that water will be coming to the ground soon – water, that used to be wasted but not anymore. Since they installed a system to collect rain water, the water from the clouds is gathered in gutters that channel it to large water drums where it is stored to then be purified. The source of Don Alcides´s joy is that this collected water is covered, filtered through a purification system and delivered straight to their homes. “This was impossible before. No one could have imagined that we would have a tap providing water inside our homes”, he says now smiling.

The life of this whole community, with 62 homes where about 300 people live, has changed dramatically. “Three years ago, our community suffered a lot. Our children would get sick because we all collected water from the river, dirty water and hardly anyone purified it. We would all drink it and use it for cooking. We would even to go to the river for bathing, even though we knew that the water was very dirty. Very contaminated”.

His home is located on the bank of the Amazon River, an hour away from Iquitos but 15 minutes away from Indiana, the district to which the community belongs to. Don Alcides Ramirez´s home floods every year, along with all the other homes on the river bank. “For many years the situation was terrible. Water would stagnate. Our toilets would flood and the waste would come to the surface. And we had no safe water, we did not have the knowledge – we would get river water in a bucket to cook. We do not have the habit of chlorinating or boiling it. That is why we all got sick very often”.

Baño ecológico en Manco Capac

But that story ended and a new chapter has started. Three years ago, the Municipality of Indiana and UNICEF built the first Dry Ecological Toilet in the community´s school. It looked like a small house. A toilet was placed inside and below this structure, two compostable vaults to accumulate human waste. These vaults are totally sealed and do not allow odors to escape. With the heat and jungle climate, this waste turns into compost that can be used on their plants. In addition, these toilets have a great quality: they do not flood, but float on the water when the floods come. No one believed a system like this was possible, but once they saw it work – everyone wanted to have a toilet in their home.

“For us it was a great solution. They came from the Municipality and UNICEF to tell us how to build the toilets and maintain them. We learnt and then organized ourselves within the community to prepare food for the engineers that came from the Municipality to build the toilets. We gave our support and learned too”, Alcides recounts with emotion.

After having the toilet, the idea of collecting rainwater came like a blessing. “They explained that the gutters had to be clean, that we had to put filters so the water was cleaned and that at the end we had to cover the water drums so that the water did not get dirty again”. The whole community, led by Alcides started to build their toilets, collect rainwater and cover their water drums. “Our lives have changed completely”, says the former Municipal Agent of Manco Capac. “My twins for example, hardly get sick and we have clean water to drink. Our toilets are clean, do not smell and make our community very happy”. Alcides sits in the doorway of his home. It looks like it is going to rain and this makes him smile. The rain starts falling and he rushes, along with his wife and twin girls to get the water drums ready. There will be enough water for their needs and the toilets will not flood. This is their life´s new chapter.