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Colombia: Clean water

Improve the health and living conditions of indigenous Awá communities


Improve the health and living conditions of indigenous communities.

With your support, more than 4,000 members of the Awá community will have access to clean water and sanitation.

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Your donation can do something brilliant

Sonia Quenán is a member of the indigenous Awá community, living in south-west Colombia. After being forcibly displaced twice at short notice due to conflict between government forces and armed groups, Sonia and her family are now settled in a reserve for indigenous people.

But living conditions in the reserve are poor. Proper water and sanitation facilities are non-existent or in a bad state of disrepair. Although natural water sources are plentiful, they are contaminated by chemicals from coca plantations, oil spills, and human and animal waste. Sonia often has no choice but to drink dirty water, risking contracting waterborne diseases like diarrhoea and intestinal parasites, which are all-too-common in the reserve.

What your money can buy

£17 could provide one person with access to a latrine and waste-water system

£42 could train 6 community members to manage their local water system and latrines, and strengthen their local water committee

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Sonia Quenán in the rainforest surrounding her home. Although there is plenty of water, the majority of it is contaminated and unsafe to drink. Photo: Alexander Torres/Oxfam.

A bit of background

Around 22,000 Awá people live in the Nariño region of Colombia. The Awá are officially recognised as a people threatened by extinction, and many of them live in poverty. They have been negotiating a Safeguard Plan with the government, but agreements have been delayed for years.

In the past, the Awá people lived by gathering fruits and using the rivers as a source of water and food. But armed conflict and coca plantations have taken over much of their land, placing them in the centre of conflict and human rights violations. Now, the rivers are not clean enough to drink from, or fish in, and they only eat crops they can grow, which is mainly bananas. This lack of varied food means their diet is very poor. A shocking recent report found that as many as 70 per cent of indigenous children in Colombia are malnourished. The changing climate in this remote rural location means that floods and droughts are now a frequent problem, which is exacerbating the already difficult situation for the communities.

During our previous work with Awá communities, they told us that the lack of clean water and proper sanitation facilities is the biggest challenge they face as it impacts on all aspects of life - their health, their ability to farm and work, and the safety of women and girls, who have to walk long distances to fetch water supplies.

The project will address this by installing or repairing water and sanitation facilities suitable for each community, as the terrain and water access differs greatly. We will also support members of the community to live and work together better, including addressing prejudices about women's rights, planning for emergencies, and training the community to maintain healthy environments. This project will give the Awá people the chance to build a brighter future.

How we're helping

This year, more than 4,000 men, women and children from the Awá community will directly benefit from the repair and installation of water and sanitation facilities. This is the total population of the 14 communities this project is working in, so these people will also benefit from the trainings in self-protection and women's rights.

The project will also indirectly benefit a further 3,545 people in neighbouring communities, because the water and sanitation facilities have been strategically located in places where Awá community meetings take place, and where communities forcibly displaced by the armed conflict can be received.

Download more information about this project (PDF)

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Look how far your money can go

Gladys Taicus lives has participated in a pilot Oxfam project bringing safe water and sanitation facilities to remote Awá communities. She is a member of the Water Committee, a group of trained community members who oversee the running and maintenance of the newly installed water and sanitation facilities.

 If the water point installed by Oxfam is damaged, we will work together to buy spare parts, and our community will be able to stop depending on external aid.

As part of this project, water and sanitation facilities will be installed in other Awá communities, so many more Awá people are able to enjoy the benefits, like Gladys' community in Andalucía.

You can help: donate now