Water is also a source of development, as shown by the villagers of San Rafael de la Laguna, Ecuador. Through community action, this town transformed the contaminated waters of Lake Imbakucha into a fountain of growth using alternative and traditional technologies, winning third prize in the "Experiences in Social Innovation" competition in 2007. The contest is organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation .
This success story starts with the need to treat sewage and other polluted waters discharged into the lake from surrounding villages, tourist lodges and flower plantations. In San Rafael, villagers were concerned about the impact of contamination on production of the totora reeds that are the prime material of local handicrafts. Along the shore, the pigs, cows and sheep feeding among the reeds-and the shepherds who tend them-- wallowed in a mixture of sewage and mud.
The economic and social development plan adopted by this indigenous community of 4,700 inhabitants was drawn up in municipal assemblies. The townspeople worked in mingas (community action, in Quechua) to build water treatment plants using aquatic lentil and water lettuce. Totora production has increased and new handcrafts and furniture are being sold by the Totora Sisa community enterprise. The need to reforest hillsides to conserve water sources led to the creation of a community-owned nursery that sells native trees. A new tourism enterprise is cashing in on the improved water quality of the lake to offer rides in this Otavalo community's traditional totora boats.
For Freddy Sánchez, president of the community's administrative council, the project "is about much more than water treatment and management. It's about comprehensive development built on the participation of many actors."
For more information, contact: Freddy Sánchez, Junta Parroquial de San Rafael de la Laguna, Imbabura, Ecuador. E-mail: jpsrlagunayahoo.com ; Tels: (593) 06-291-8532 o 06 292-4933.
Complete information on the ECLAC/Kellogg project Experiences in Social Innovation is available here. For more details, contact: lezak.shallatcepal.org; tels: (562) 210-2060/ 2451/2263.