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Does the Water Mafia Exist?

When you hear about the Dominican Republic what do you think? Many think of it as a vacation spot with white sandy beaches and blue waters. But, outside the walls of the resorts, is a lot of poverty and a real need for clean water.

On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I had the pleasure of working with an organization called Wine to Water to distribute ceramic water filters to surrounding areas. Many families don’t have access to clean drinking water, which causes many health issues like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and even death. Every 20 seconds a child dies of a waterborne illness and 443 million school days are lost each year from water related illnesses. Common sources for drinking water range from contaminated water wells, river and streams, and rain water. Some are fortunate enough to have the money and access to purchase large water jugs for their drinking water. This is the part that brought the question to mind, is there a “water mafia” that controls people’s access to clean drinking water?

When following up with people in Bonagua, many of the households mentioned that the water filters were saving them a great deal of money. Anywhere from 300 to 1,000 pesos a month. This was all because they don’t have to buy the jugs of clean water anymore.

However, some households mentioned that they have only cut back on how many jugs they buy because they didn’t want to tell the people that sell them that they didn’t need them anymore. Is this because of fear or is it because those people lively hoods depend on the sales of clean water?

While we know, we are doing good by building and distributing water filters so that families can have less health issues and save money. It brings up the question, could these filters be having an adverse effect on the people that distribute these water jugs? It is believed that it is a big enough business that if a few families in the community stop buying jugs of water it wouldn’t impact the bottom line of the business. But as we do more and more work in these communities and hand out more and more filters, when will it impact the bottom line? When does our good work become bad for others?

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.