Rainwater Harvesting Eases Daily Struggle in Argentina’s Chaco Region

Mariano Barraza (L), a member of the Wichi indigenous people, and Enzo Romero, a technician with the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the rainwater storage tank built in the indigenous community of Lote 6 to supply the local families during the six-month dry season in this part of the province of Salta, in northern Argentina's Chaco region. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza (L), a member of the Wichi indigenous people,
and Enzo Romero, a technician with the Fundapaz organisation, stand
next to the rainwater storage tank built in the indigenous
community of Lote 6 to supply the local families during the
six-month dry season in this part of the province of Salta, in
northern Argentina’s Chaco region. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
LOS BLANCOS, Argentina, Nov 6 2018 (IPS)

“I’ve been used to hauling water since I was eight years
old. Today, at 63, I still do it,” says Antolín Soraire, a tall
peasant farmer with a face ravaged by the sun who lives in Los
Blancos, a town of a few dozen houses and wide dirt roads in the
province of Salta, in northern Argentina.

In this part of the Chaco, the tropical plain stretching over
more than one million square kilometres shared with Bolivia, Brazil
and Paraguay, living conditions are not easy.”I wish the entire
Chaco region could be sown with water tanks and we wouldn’t have to
cry about the lack of water anymore. We don’t want 500-meter deep
wells or other large projects. We trust local solutions.” — Enzo
Romero

For about six months a year, between May and October, it does
not rain. And in the southern hemisphere summer, temperatures can
climb to 50 degrees Celsius.

Most of the homes in the municipality of Rivadavia Banda Norte,
where Los Blancos is located, and in neighbouring municipalities
are scattered around rural areas, which are cut off and isolated
when it rains. Half of the households cannot afford to meet their
basic needs, according to official data, and access to water is
still a privilege, especially since there are no rivers in the
area.

Drilling wells has rarely provided a solution. “The
groundwater is salty and naturally contains arsenic. You have to go
more than 450 meters deep to get good water,” Soraire told IPS
during a visit to this town of about 1,100 people.

In the last three years, an innovative self-managed system has
brought hope to many families in this area, one of the poorest in
Argentina: the construction of rooftops made of rainwater collector
sheets, which is piped into cement tanks buried in the ground.

Each of these hermetically sealed tanks stores 16,000 litres of
rainwater – what is needed by a family of five for drinking and
cooking during the six-month dry season.

“When I was a kid, the train would come once a week, bringing
us water. Then the train stopped coming and things got really
difficult,” recalls Soraire, who is what is known here as a
criollo: a descendant of the white men and women who came to the
Argentine Chaco since the late 19th century in search of land to
raise their animals, following the military expeditions that
subjugated the indigenous people of the region.

Today, although many years have passed and the criollos and
indigenous people in most cases live in the same poverty, there is
still latent tension with the native people who live in isolated
rural communities such as Los Blancos or in the slums ringing the
larger towns and cities.

Since the early 20th century, the railway mentioned by Soraire
linked the 700 kilometres separating the cities of Formosa and
Embarcación, and was practically the only means of communication
in this area of the Chaco, which until just 10 years ago had no
paved roads.

Dorita, a local indigenous woman, stands in front of a "represa" or pond dug near her home, in Lote 6, a Wichí community a few kilometres from the town of Los Blancos, in Argentina's Chaco region. The ponds accumulate rainwater and are used to provide drinking water for both animals and local families, posing serious health risks. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Dorita, a local indigenous woman, stands in front of a
“represa” or pond dug near her home, in Lote 6, a Wichí
community a few kilometres from the town of Los Blancos, in
Argentina’s Chaco region. The ponds accumulate rainwater and are
used to provide drinking water for both animals and local families,
posing serious health risks. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The trains stopped coming to this area in the 1990s, during the
wave of privatisations and spending cuts imposed by neoliberal
President Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

Although there have been promises to get the trains running
again, in the Chaco villages of Salta today there are only a few
memories of the railway: overgrown tracks and rundown brick railway
stations that for years have housed homeless families.

Soraire, who raises cows, pigs and goats, is part of one of six
teams – three criollo and three indigenous – that the Foundation for Development in Peace
and Justice (Fundapaz)
trained to build rainwater tanks in the
area around Los Blancos.

“Everyone here wants their own tank,” Enzo Romero, a
technician with Fundapaz, a non-governmental organisation that has
been working for more than 40 years in rural development in
indigenous and criollo settlements of Argentina’s Chaco region,
told IPS in Los Blancos. “So we carry out surveys to see which
families have the greatest needs.”

The director of Fundapaz, Gabriel Seghezzo, explains that “the
beneficiary family must dig a hole five metres deep by 1.20 in
diameter, in which the tank is buried. In addition, they have to
provide lodging and meals to the builders during the week it takes
to build it.”

“It’s very important for the family to work hard for this.
In order for this to work out well, it is essential for the
beneficiaries to feel they are involved,” Seghezzo told IPS in
Salta, the provincial capital.

Fundapaz “imported” the rainwater tank system from Brazil,
thanks to its many contacts with social organisations in that
country, especially groups working for solutions to the chronic
drought in the Northeast region.

Antolín Soraire, a "criollo" farmer from the Chaco region of Salta, stands in front of one of the tanks he built in Los Blancos to collect rainwater, which provides families with drinking water for their needs during the six-month dry season in northern Argentina. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Antolín Soraire, a “criollo” farmer from the Chaco region
of Salta, stands in front of one of the tanks he built in Los
Blancos to collect rainwater, which provides families with drinking
water for their needs during the six-month dry season in northern
Argentina. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Romero points out that so far some 40 rooftops and water tanks
have been built – at a cost of about 1,000 dollars each – in
the municipality of Rivadavia Banda Norte, which is 12,000 square
kilometres in size and has some 10,000 inhabitants. This number of
tanks is, of course, a very small part of what is needed, he
added.

“I wish the entire Chaco region could be sown with water tanks
and we wouldn’t have to cry about the lack of water anymore. We
don’t want 500-meter deep wells or other large projects. We trust
local solutions,” says Romero, who studied environmental
engineering at the National University of Salta and moved several
years ago to Morillo, the capital of the municipality, 1,600
kilometres north of Buenos Aires.

On National Route 81, the only paved road in the area, it is
advisable to travel slowly: as there are no fences, pigs, goats,
chickens and other animals raised by indigenous and criollo
families constantly wander across the road.

Near the road, in the mountains, live indigenous communities,
such as those known as Lote 6 and Lote 8, which occupy former
public land now recognised as belonging to members of the Wichí
ethnic group, one of the largest native communities in Argentina,
made up of around 51,000 people, according to official figures that
are considered an under-registration.

In Lote 6, Dorita, a mother of seven, lives with her husband
Mariano Barraza in a brick house with a tin roof, surrounded by
free-ranging goats and chickens. The children and their families
return seasonally from Los Blancos, where the grandchildren go to
school, which like transportation is not available in the
community.

Three children play under a roof next to goats in Lote 6, an indigenous community in the province of Salta in northern Argentina. It is one of the poorest areas in the country, with half of the population having unmet basic needs, and where the shortage of drinking water is the most serious problem. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Three children play under a roof next to goats in Lote 6, an
indigenous community in the province of Salta in northern
Argentina. It is one of the poorest areas in the country, with half
of the population having unmet basic needs, and where the shortage
of drinking water is the most serious problem. Credit: Daniel
Gutman/IPS

About 100 metres from the house, Dorita, who preferred not to
give her last name, shows IPS a small pond with greenish water. In
the region of Salta families dig these “represas” to store
rainwater.

The families of Lot 6 today have a rooftop that collects
rainwater and storage tank, but they used to use water from the
“represas” – the same water that the animals drank, and often
soiled.

“The kids get sick. But the families often consume the
contaminated water from the ‘represas’ because they have no
alternative,” Silvia Reynoso, a Catholic nun who works for
Fundapaz in the area, told IPS.

In neighboring Lote 8, Anacleto Montes, a Wichi indigenous man
who has an 80-square-metre rooftop that collects rainwater,
explains: “This was a solution. Because we ask the municipality
to bring us water, but there are times when the truck is not
available and the water doesn’t arrive.”

What Montes doesn’t say is that water in the Chaco has also
been used to buy political support in a patronage-based system.

Lalo Bertea, who heads the Tepeyac Foundation, an organisation
linked to the Catholic Church that has been working in the area for
20 years, told IPS: “Usually in times of drought, the
municipality distributes water. And it chooses where to bring water
based on political reasons. The people in the area are so used to
this that they consider it normal.”

“Water scarcity is the most serious social problem in this
part of the Chaco,” says Bertea, who maintains that rainwater
collection also has its limits and is experimenting with the
purchase of Mexican pumps to extract groundwater when it can be
found at a reasonable depth.

“The incredible thing about all this is that the Chaco is not
the Sahara desert. There is water, but the big question is how to
access it,” he says.

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Rainwater Harvesting Eases Daily Struggle in Argentina’s Chaco
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Rainwater Harvesting Eases Daily Struggle in Argentina’s Chaco Region