How We Work

Questions and Answers

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

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:
  1. a biologically active surface layer,
  2. a fine sand layer,
  3. a layer of crushed quartz, and finally,
  4. a layer of coarse gravel.
The top hypogeal layer (called a "Schmutzdecke"), contains microorganisms that remove bacteria, trap contaminants, and break down other incoming organic material. The next two layers work together to create a complex maze of sand grains that microbes get trapped in and die. They also trap contaminants such as toxic metals and petroleum pollution, which stick to the sand as they flow by in a process called adsorption. Finally, the layer of gravel serves as a support to the sand and quartz layers so nothing flushes out of the tank as the clean water flows into a second, large anti-bacterial storage tank. Turn the faucet on the storage tank and watch the abundant flow of safe, clean, clear water. ClearWater rainwater catchment system

Building Together

Building Together

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
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.

A Movement for Clean Water, Rainforest Protection, and Cultural Survival

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.

Territorial Mapping Program:

With support from universities and international organizations, ClearWater's participatory mapping program is providing young leaders with critical mapping tools and equipment, such as GPS and GIS, and building teams of youth to document the natural and cultural resources, enabling communities to advocate for legal titling of large tracts of their ancestral territory, and to produce maps for use in advocacy, conflict resolution, and negotiations with corporate and state actors.

Communications & Multimedia Storytelling Program:

This program is designed to provide dozens of women and young leaders from communities on the frontlines of climate change and industrial exploitation with the tools and skills to produce multimedia stories in a range of thematic areas, from deforestation to cultural preservation to climate justice to the importance of clean water. Using online platforms, including the ClearWater website and social media channels, indigenous communities will speak for themselves, and share their concerns and stories with a national and international audience, in English, Spanish, and native languages.

Legal Advocacy Program:

The legal advocacy program aims to develop and implement a unique methodology aimed at empowering indigenous communities to identify, document, and respond to legal problems. It will build cross-cutting ties between indigenous federations to identify common threats and coordinated solutions, provide paralegal training to young indigenous leaders, and channel funds and legal resources to strategic legal interventions in defense of human rights and the environment.