We run, then we’ll need water. We make a speech, then we’ll need water. We’re eating
food, then we’ll need water. Our hands need a wash, then we’ll need water. If it’s a hot day, then
we’ll need water. Water is not only a large part of our lives, but also an essential element of
living. We are so lucky to have access to clean water each day whenever we need it, but some
are not as lucky. In fact, it is estimated that 790 million people (11% of the world’ population) do
not have adequate access to a clean water supply.
Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Ecuadorian Amazon, where I
learned a lot about the power and influence of water. The Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that
one-fifth of the Earth’s running water is carried by the Amazon River. Ironically, many of the
Indigenous Villages I visited that surround the Amazon River do not have access to clean
drinking water and many are getting sick from water-borne illnesses. It was so saddening to see
many small children having to skip school due to stomach aches. Initially, I wondered, if there is
so much water here, why can’t we just figure out a way to filter the water? Turns out, it’s not that
After more intense study of the area, I found many mining projects occurring around the
villages. These mining projects caused deforestation which led to landslides which broke many
of the water filtration pumps in the area. Playing with the kids of the villages after school, I
noticed a crack in the middle of the soccer court. “It’s because of ‘el movimiento’,” one mother
told me, referring to the movement of land due to the landslides. By the time I reached the
village of Yunganza, the filtration system had been broken for over 6 months, during which time
children were still drinking from water fountains at school, although everyone in the community
was warned to boil their water. This drew my next question, why doesn’t the government fund
new filtration projects?
Alicia Vega, the president of water in Yunganza, told me that they had asked the
government for aid, but government officials told her to just pack up and move elsewhere. Vega,
an Indigenous Shuar woman, has grown up in this village, just as all of her ancestors. The area is
full of beautiful waterfalls her community considers sacred, of petroglyphs and ancient Shuar
drawings, of Shamans that know every plant of the area as well as their various functions, of
elders that only speak the Shuar language, and of children who have come to call this area home.
The Shuar culture and heritage is lived and celebrated here, yet rather than investing in the
vibrant community, the government would rather they all leave so that the mining projects could
expand. While the mining can bring economic benefit to the country and job opportunity to the
villagers who live in these remote areas, it comes at the cost of nature and health.
Despite all of these obstacles, I was inspired by the resilience of the Shuar community
who gathered together and pushed through the difficulty. For the time I was there, I helped the
community by participating in a ‘Minga’. The community holds many Mingas in order to protect
each other and keep each other well. A Minga entails a collaborative work system that dates back
to ancient times. It refers to the commitment, contract, or work agreement between a group of
people. Within this particular Minga, over twenty members of the community or all ages from
teens to elders signed up to repair the water filtration system. When one signs onto a Minga, they
will work in rotation on a particular project, and in the future, if anyone who signed up needs
help with their own project, then the same group will all help the other person. In this way, it’s
like a community-based insurance plan. Each day, we’d take an hour-long hike through the
Amazon to the ‘water tomb’, as they called it. And each day, our group felt more hopeful.
By the end of my time there, the water tomb was complete, and we all gathered together
for a traditional Shuar meal, complete with fresh, cool water. Today, many of us will walk to our
fridges, click a button, and water will start pouring out, but it did not just appear there. Take a
moment to think of the journey of the water, the funding of the pipes, the maintenance workers
that keep everything running. Every time we take a sip of water, let us imagine our own
grandmothers hiking through the Amazon to fix the pipes for their grandchildren. Let us imagine
the community efforts around the world centered on bringing that cold refreshing sip to our lips.
This week and every week, as we celebrate #InternationalWaterDay, let us be more cognizant of
our responsibility to limit water-waste, to fund sustainable water projects around the world, and
to appreciate what keeps us alive.
For more information on my time with the villages of Yunganza including Photos, Videos, and Audio Messages, visit: https://chloebergeron.myportfolio.com/the-changing-shuar-voice
Intern with the CM’s NGO presence at the UN