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Poisoned Eden

The Dominican Republic’s Ongoing Battle for Clean Water

Peering out over the vibrant green cascading vistas surrounding the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic, one may think they have found nothing short of paradise on Earth; making it hard to believe that an estimated 1300 people are lost annually to water-related illness in the country.

Water is life and unsafe drinking water can take that life. As a US citizen, it is hard to wrap one’s head around the concept that consuming tap water could make you gravely ill, but in the Dominican Republic this is daily life. A lack of funds, infrastructure, and regulation combined with growing populations has exacerbated the problem across the country.

In urban areas, such as Santiago, the outskirts of the city lack reliable plumbing which increases the incidence of contamination before water makes it to the tap in someone’s home. In these suburban areas, garbage still lines the streets and chickens run freely, deep runoff ditches lay adjacent to the busy streets, carrying blue-tinted water that oftentimes makes its way into the plumbing lines carrying water directly into homes.

A resident of a local neighborhood in the Santiago area shared that he had a stomach ache for over six years until his family was fortunate enough to begin using clay filters for their home’s drinking water, filters that now his family’s factory makes for the residents of the Dominican Republic to help fight this ongoing battle for clean water.

The clay filters help remove 99.9% of the organic contaminants from the water making it safe for consumption and reducing illnesses such as bacterial diarrhea. Complications of diarrhea cause half of the deaths of children under the age of one in the Dominican Republic. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website, the degree of risk to major infectious disease runs high for waterborne bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. In extreme scenarios, outbreaks of Cholera have been reported which is waterborne disease that can often lead to death.

In rural areas, up to 18% of country’s residents have unimproved drinking water sources; forcing many rural citizens to use untreated water straight from rivers, rain catchments, springs or wells as drinking water. Agricultural runoff, human waste and improper disposal of industrial waste can affect the water quality of any of these water sources.

It is estimated that only 25% percent of residents in rural areas area connected to public water supplies and close to 50% have access within 200 meters of their dwelling. Lack of income in rural areas makes it hard, at times impossible, for families to buy bottled water for consumption or even chlorine to treat the water, leaving them no other option than to use their untreated local sources. The Dominican Republic is visually stunning country with a deeply rooted and dangerous issue of dirty water.

Foreign non-profits, volunteers and philanthropists are working together with communities in the country to promote in-home filter use and sanitary education to empower the communities with the tools they need to make healthier choices and to increase accessibility to clean water.

From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

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