Questions and Answers
How can people and institutions from industrialized consumer societies support the struggles of indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest whose lives and territories are threatened by the impact of these same consumer societies' excessive demand for their resources? ClearWater believes that the first step is simple: ask the indigenous Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, and Waorani nationalities who live in Ecuador's northern Amazon. That's what we did and the answer was precise and direct: "We need clean water; without clean water we cannot survive. We must build together." Since ClearWater was founded in 2011, that's exactly what we have done. Together we've built more than 500 rainwater catchment systems in Ecuador's northern Amazon, providing safe access to clean water for thousands of people whose ancestral waterways have long been poisoned by oil drilling and other industrial contamination.
Bounty in a Rainforest Ecosystem
The waterways of Ecuador's northern Amazon have been poisoned by oil drilling, as well as industrial pollution from African oil palm plantations, and oil boom towns across the region. With the help of local and international engineers, we have designed and implemented an immediate solution to the water crisis gripping the region: simple and effective family-sized rainwater catchment systems. Coordinators and technicians from the Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Waorani nationalities work with teams of volunteers and local organizations such as the Union of Peoples Affected by Texaco's Oil Operations (UDAPT), and the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia, to install and maintain the clean water systems, which depend only upon rainfall – plentiful here in the rainforest – and ClearWater's commitment to water quality monitoring and maintenance. Rainwater is harvested from rooftop gutter-spouts on people's homes, with the flow diverted into a first tank where the water passes through a specially-designed biosand filter. The water passes through four layers of filtration:
- a biologically active surface layer,
- a fine sand layer,
- a layer of crushed quartz, and finally,
- a layer of coarse gravel.
ClearWater is a partnership between the five nationalities of Ecuador's northern Amazon, and international water specialists, humanitarians, activists, and donors large and small. These international supporters show solidarity through collaborative efforts to mitigate the impact of industrial development, as well as initiatives that empower local communities to both confront threats to their land, livelihoods, and cultures, and invest in long-term solutions. ClearWater is markedly different from aid and conservation initiatives that employ paternalistic, top-down approaches, and instead focuses on collaborative, integrative, community-led solutions. The elders and elected leadership of each nationality manage the project in their communities, while local youth are trained in water quality analysis, system installation, monitoring and maintenance. Budgets are managed by the indigenous nationalities themselves with oversight from ClearWater partner organization UDAPT, with local women trained as accountants. In building hundreds of rainwater systems together across the region, we have also built the foundation for an indigenous movement for clean water, rainforest protection, and cultural survival.
Projects fail because they come from far away. People from the cities think they know more than us. AguaClara (ClearWater) is succeeding because it is our project. We are building together with our international friends.Ramon Gaba, Waorani ClearWater Coordinator
A Movement for Clean Water, Rainforest Protection, and Cultural Survival
Building on the foundation of health and dignity that comes through our collaborative approach to providing clean water across the region, we've initiated programs that will empower the communities to defend their cultures and territories from ongoing threats, such as oil development, palm oil plantations, and further colonization of their lands. Our programs are designed collaboratively with participants, and are supported by brilliant local and international partners.