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U.S. Surfer and Lieutenant Colonel Team Up to Bring Drinking Water to Outlying Nicaraguan Communities

U.S. Surfer and Lieutenant Colonel Team Up to Bring Drinking Water to Outlying Nicaraguan Communities

By Dialogo
July 01, 2015

The help the United States gives to troubled countries such as Haiti is very important as well as the humanitarian people of goodwill, who thanks to God, are located in countries where their citizens are usually the poorest and least protected. They are those most abandoned by their government leaders. Little visited cultural aspect, especially in my country. Argentina has water because that is what nature gave us. Political inability keeps millions from suffering floods and cities and town not having sewers. I associate what I read -- water scarcity -- with my country. Respectful regards.

Among the thousands of multi-national military forces, aid workers, and volunteers who inundated Haiti following the 2010 earthquake to provide relief assistance were two individuals that met by chance. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Brian Woolworth was part of the United Nations military relief mission, and pro surfer Jon Rose, founder of non-profit organization Waves for Water, was working with the United Nations to distribute water filters from military bases to communities in distress.

They were both there for the same purpose: to bring whatever aid they could to the devastated island nation and its people, hundreds of thousands who were left homeless and at the mercy of the international aid being provided for their food, shelter, and basic survival. Although it may have been a coincidental encounter in the midst of chaos, what came next was definitely not.

“We collaborated on a few projects there,” Rose told Diálogo
. “Because our program – aimed to bring clean water solutions to impoverished countries around the world – is so measurable and clear-cut, he [Lt. Col. Woolworth] was very happy with the results we had.”

When LTC Woolworth got stationed in Managua, Nicaragua to head the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC-N), he realized that clean water would be a godsend in the remote communities of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, which are part of the country’s autonomous region and remain culturally and geographically secluded from the rest of the country.

Additionally, according to LTC Woolworth, Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast – called the Autonomous Region of the Southern Coast (RACS) and the Autonomous Region of the Northern Coast (RACN) – has had limited to minimal government influence and serves as one of the main international drug trafficking corridors through Nicaragua. They are inhabited by Garifuna communities that speak native Garifuna and Creole, and they seem to be worlds away from the rest of Nicaragua.

Part of the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) outreach efforts with Central and South America and the Caribbean includes cooperative engagements such as the Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAP). Through the military team in the Embassy, the partner nation government and interagency, and non-governmental organizations, SOUTHCOM identifies the specific needs of a given partner nation and works collaboratively to provide assistance and sponsor projects to benefit local communities.

“In this case, it was the perfect scenario to implement a HAP project and bring together Nicaraguan and United States interagency efforts in a joint, long-term endeavor with lasting effects… we’re changing the lives of these communities with something so simple and low-cost,” said the OSC-N Chief. “And SOUTHCOM can replicate this in other partner nations in the region,” he added.

“[Waves for Water] was already doing work on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua when Brian was assigned as OSC-N Chief in Managua, so we both knew that this would be a great opportunity to collaborate again,” said Rose. “Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (behind Haiti), so the needs are seemingly endless, and the timing was perfect. He knew that with our program he could make real solid and tangible impact.”

HAP not only funds the assistance programs identified, but also helps build each country’s capacity to manage them. In coordination with Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, the OSC plans to implement the water filter program by assessing, implementing, and monitoring 23 communities in the RACS and 12 communities in the RACN – all of which can only be reached by a small boat or panga
after flying from Managua to Bluefields – throughout 2015 and 2016.

The water filters are very simple, low-cost, and self-sustainable. At about 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, they’re called “point-of-use” hollow-fiber membrane filters because they’re not attached to a water line and can be placed on a counter in the home, school, or clinic. The technology was developed for kidney dialysis, and comprises tiny U-shaped micro tubes that allow the water to enter their cores through tiny pores.

“The filter pores are so small (0.1 micron absolute) that no Cholera, Typhoid, and E. coli bacteria, protozoa or cysts can go through the membrane,” explained Hasy Gutierrez, OSC-N Program Manager. The filter attains the highest level of filtration available today at 99.99999%, while maintaining a very high flow rate due to the many tubes in each filter. With a lifespan of ten years or 1 million gallons of water per filter, the potential for long-lasting change and ripple effects for entire generations is clear.

The filter has a flow rate of about 1 liter per minute, so it has the capability of filtering over 1,000 liters per day. And they don’t require anything more than the force of gravity, a bucket of water, a hose that is attached to the filter on one end and to the water on the other, and voilá
, thousands of community members along the entire coast of Nicaragua get access to potable water, and with it a chance at cleaner, more sanitary conditions for better health, thus improving mortality rates, education levels, and quality of life.

“Water is a basic element to health,” said Gutierrez. “The [Waves for Water] filters are able to filter most of the bacteria from the water these communities draw from wells and rain catcher systems, which cause them a lot of stomach problems and water-borne illnesses.”

Between 2014 and 2016, the OSC-N and Waves for Water team plans to implement filters in about 23 communities along the South Atlantic coast and 12 more in the North Atlantic. So far, they’ve already delivered 868 filters in communities including Monkey Point, Rama Cay, Bluefields, Haulover, Pearl Lagoon, Kakabila, Brown Bank, La Fe, San Vicente, Orinoco, Marshall Point, and Tasbapauni.

“Tasbapauni is the biggest community in the area,” said Gutierrez. “There are 350 families there; Orinoco, further north, has 190 families, and we have provided a filter to every home, every school, and every clinic or health center in the communities we’ve visited.”

George Martin Collins, community leader at Brown Bank, told Diálogo
they had already seen a difference. “We have seen fewer cases of diarrhea in our children. We are a very small community of 180 people, so this is a great improvement for us... Water is a source of life, and we need clean water for survival.”

Carla Jane, a teacher at the community school in Bluefields, agrees. “The filters have been very useful to us; they helped improve our health – there’s less diarrhea. We don’t even have a well. We get our well water by borrowing our neighbor’s well, but now we have clean water. It’s just great, and we’re very thankful for the help.”

Knowing that a small, plastic filter can positively affect the lives of so many is a tangible, measurable effect, but putting numbers on the equation makes it that much more impactful: $3,000 (one of the minimal cost HAP projects) buys 40 buckets, 40 filters, pays for the operating costs of implementing them, and impacts the lives of at least 4,000 people. This program is definitely a significant drop of water in the bucket of positive change.