Guatemala and U.S. Plan to Supply Drinking Water to Remote Communities
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo May 23, 2017The Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion (known as the Seabees), participated in the Water Well Drilling Course. The course was part of a training program for infrastructure projects that the engineering corps will carry out in August to provide drinking water to remote communities in Guatemala. Members of the Honduran Army and the Colombian Army also attended the course, held from April 9th to the 15th in Gulfport, Mississippi. U.S. specialists shared their knowledge and advanced skills on deep-well drilling for groundwater extraction. Participants learned how to operate high-tech equipment and well-drilling vehicles to collect pure water, as well as how to optimize resources for the purpose of achieving larger and better objectives using the fewest resources possible. “This course was a refresher for us mainly in the handling of rotary drilling machines. This is bigger equipment with greater capacity, and it’s more complex than the percussion drilling equipment that we have in our service organization,” said Second Lieutenant Alfonso José Jiménez Dubon, an engineering officer and commander of the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Squad, who attended the training. During the course, service members shared information and experiences about the features of the area where the infrastructure projects in their respective countries will be implemented. For example, the Colombian Army will be working in a strategic desert area, the Honduran Army will be drilling wells in a mountainous area, and Guatemalan service members will be in a region that is close to the sea. In addition to fighting transnational organized crime organizations, drug trafficking, and gangs, the Guatemalan Army cooperates on supporting domestic development activities. In the 1970s this service branch started to explore underground hydrological resources through well drilling to supply Army units and civilian populations located farthest from these services. Since that time, the water table in Guatemala has dropped to approximately 520 meters. Before, underground water could be found at 130 meters, according to the report “Scarcity of Potable Water in Guatemalan Cities,” published by the Science and Technology Research and Forecasting Institute in 2015. In addition, the report “Water in Guatemala,” issued in 2014 by the social service foundation Archdiocese Charity of Guatemala, indicated that 90 percent of surface water sources are polluted and close to 40 percent of the population does not have access to potable water. “This has us in a bit of a bind because we only have drilling equipment that can reach 122 meters. Having modern drilling systems would help us revitalize all the water sources that we have and those that we opened up [years ago]. Currently, those wells aren’t in use because they are too deep to be useful to us,” Colonel Gustavo Méndez Morán, second commander of the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers, told Diálogo. “Because of the reduced supply of surface water and the pollution of many of more shallow aquifers, extracting underground water to provide clean water to the people is vital,” Col. Méndez added. During the second week of August, a Seabees detachment will travel to Guatemala to extract underground water through wells. To carry out drilling projects in the municipality of Puerto Barrios, in Izabal department, service members will take high-tech machinery that can drill to a depth of more than 305 meters and support equipment that will be transported on board a U.S. Navy vessel. In this assignment, both of the Guatemalan service members who took part in the drilling course will assist the U.S. experts in the infrastructure projects in Puerto Barrios. “We are ready for this assignment. Once again, we will have the opportunity to learn and to exchange knowledge with U.S. specialists in civil engineering and construction.” Second Lt. Jiménez noted that a well is not simply a hole that has been dug. It is a structure that must meet technical, environmental, economic, and health specifications, among others. It must have a durable, efficient, and high-quality infrastructure. “A couple of wells will provide potable water to outlying communities on the Atlantic coast of Guatemala and to the military unit [Marine Brigade] in Puerto Barrios. All of the water tables in that area are totally polluted,” Col. Méndez stressed. “This cooperation and training will really improve our capabilities as an engineering corps.” For years, the Guatemalan and the U.S. armed forces have cooperated on education, training, security, and defense matters. In 1999, officers from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) documented the general situation with water resources in Guatemala, so they could provide accurate information to U.S. military researchers, plan various joint engineering exercises intended to provide humanitarian assistance to the civilian population, and help ensure that the Guatemalan government could maximize its use of water resources. “For Guatemala, the support we get from the different branches of the U.S. military means a lot. Thanks to their cooperation, we have taken a number of actions that contribute to community development in the most remote communities with major problems of the country,” Col. Méndez said. “According to the planning, the U.S. military group will work directly with the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense on two wells, and with other Guatemalan government agencies or municipalities on other [wells] around the country,” he concluded.