by Jill Clark-Gollub

This past Friday I was able to visit a small rural community in Nicaragua to learn how it has gained access to an adequate supply of affordable, safe drinking water. The FSLN government has drastically improved infrastructure for its population of 6.5 million since coming into office in 2007—including bringing electricity to virtually the entire population when almost half of them did not have it in their homes, building 22 hospitals and drastically improving healthcare, building numerous schools and reinstating free public education from preschool through graduate school, and building the best roads in Central America—but it needed to find a creative way to bring safe, affordable drinking water to remote communities. A program called CAPS (Spanish acronym for Drinking Water and Sanitation Committee) provides a grass roots solution.

Two rural communities in Ciudad Sandino municipality, Trinidad Central and Cuajachillo, joined together to solve their water problem. Myself and other international visitors met with three members of the Board of this CAPS (Zaida Cabrera, Roberto Sanchez, and Benjamin Cabrero) and learned how it works. The residents first procured a grant from the local Rotary Club and the support of the Ciudad Sandino municipal government. Then they put in a lot of sweat equity to make the project a reality. The board members explained that four years ago their old, small well only provided a small amount of water that brought contaminants and sickness into their community, forcing them to pay or water to be trucked in at a high cost. As a result, they barely had enough water for cooking and drinking and often had to forgo bathing and washing clothes, among other basic human needs.

First, the municipal government excavated 800 feet and put in a new well, although water was found at 200 feet, to ensure a good volume of water. This is pumped to two 35,000-gallon water tanks provided.donated by the local Rotary Club for a value of $150,000. Then the task of putting in household connections from the tank was left up to the 572 home owners. These community members put in a minimum of 12 days of labor per family until the project was completed. Now some 3,000 people can enjoy clean, cheap water piped into their homes thanks to the non-profit CAPS that runs the project at cost. The volunteer board members oversee the operations and have hired three community members and purchased a smartphone and a motorcycle to allow the staff to move through the community to read meters, keep an eye on maintenance, and collect payment. There are now 3,127 of these CAPS in rural communities throughout Nicaragua. An important side benefit of this truly Public Private Partnership is that if there is any future attempt to privatize water—as is happening in so many countries around the world—these free-standing, community-run water systems cannot be easily swept up. This is also a powerful example of what the Nicaraguan people call “Pueblo Presidente”—meaning that the people are the “President” of their country—they are the ones in charge and are forging their own destiny. Since the Sandinista revolution first triumphed in 1979, a culture of people’s power and citizen engagement has been thriving and allowing the formerly impoverished people of Nicaragua to improve their lives.

* FoLA’s Jill Clark-Gollub is currently in Nicaragua as part of an international team of independend observers to the country’s November 7th elections.