Miwaguno and Tobeta: The Need For Water


Homes among the forested hills, Miwaguno. Photo: Mitch Anderson

By Alex Goff, Field Coordinator Along the Via Pindo, amid a snaking network of oil roads, mestizo farmer communities, Shuar and Kichwa villages, oil wells and company outposts, sit the Waorani communities of Miwaguno and Tobeta. This is block 14, operated by the Chinese oil company Andes Petrol, a seemingly lawless land on the frontier of jungle wilderness, home to the last remaining uncontacted Waorani tribes in Ecuador, the Tagaeri and Taromenane. This whole region used to be Waorani territory. Industrial development spurred by oil extraction, missionary activity, and colonist settlement— not only mestizo but also by Shuar and Kichwa indigenous groups— has usurped much of the Waorani’s ancestral homeland. The Waorani now live among cowori, or non-Waorani: outsiders.

A home framed by the backdrop of rainforest, Miwaguno. Photo: Mitch Anderson

The communities of Miwaguno and Tobeta, along with Yawepare, are the last remaining Waorani stronghold settlements in this area. Miwaguno is made up of around 21 houses spread over a terrain of low hills and narrow streams. A small river flows through the center of the community. Families in Miwaguno get their drinking water from the creeks and streams, sometimes located near their homes, but often a significant walking distance away. Many families also collect rainwater for drinking. The local government installed a communal water system that reaches every household in Miwaguno, or it would if it worked. According to community members, within a few months of installation the system stopped working. Spigots dot the community, but no water comes out when the handle is turned.  Officials never followed up or repaired the system: a common occurrence with government development projects in indigenous communities in Ecuador’s Amazon. Cement outhouses with toilets are the result of another government project in the community. A simple rain catchment system is attached, but only for the purpose of flushing the toilets, not for drinking.

A communal water system installed by the local government sits unused, broken. Miwaguno. Photo: Mitch Anderson

Following the Via Pindo to where the road ends at the very edge of the Yasuní Wilderness, we reach the community of Tobeta, approximately seven households that line the road on either side. Trucks rumble along this road day and night, raising clouds of dust as they go by. Water is scarce in Tobeta. Community members collect rainwater, but say that at times the only water they have to drink is what the oil company drops off in plastic tanks.

Waorani community members bathe in the river that runs through the center of Miwaguno. Photo: Mitch Anderson

The Waorani of Miwaguno and Tobeta need clean water, and they are ready to build. ClearWater will train local technicians to install rainwater catchment systems, and alongside their fellow community members they will soon construct 28 rainwater systems in these two communities, so that every family has easy access to this most essential need: clean drinking water.