Las Cruces is a town of 17,000 people located in a largely deforested former jungle region of Petén in northern Guatemala. In recent years flooding has increased, causing significant hardship for the townspeople. In October 2008, the town was devastated by a flood that displaced over 7000 inhabitants.
Following the 2008 flood, the people of Las Cruces elected a Drainage Commission to study the problem and propose solutions. The Commission expressed the need for additional support from trained professionals. Therefore, EWB was contacted by Concern America, a nonprofit international development agency that had been working in Las Cruces since 1994. Concern America asked that EWB help the Las Cruces Drainage Commission analyze the problem and develop solutions.
The Chicagoland Professional Chapter has been working with the Drainage Commiss ion and Concern America since 2009.
The town of Las Cruces needs a diversion channel to mitigate flooding. Severe flooding occurred in 2005, 2008, and 2010.
In 2008 flood waters reached a depth of 10 feet, inundated homes and destroying belongings. More than 7000 people were displaced and all of the 17,000 inhabitants of the town were directly affected through the destruction of property and contamination of water sources. In addition, more than 40,000 people in the region were affected by the disruption of commerce.
The flooding presents a significant health hazard. Many residents receive drinking water from shallow wells, which are contaminated by flood waters carrying human and animal waste. Flood waters also disrupt the raising of chickens and pigs and the tending of gardens at home, which are an important source of income and nutrition for the impoverished townspeople.
Also, as an important transportation waypoint on a primary East-West route through the Department of Petén, flooding in Las Cruces has regional economic implications, disrupting the movement of goods and labor through the region, and affecting vulnerable populations beyond the town of Las Cruces.
The EWB-USA Response
EWB-USA Chicagoland Chapter made a commitment to the community of Las Cruces to determine the causes of flooding and to identify possible solutions.
An EWB assessment team visited Las Cruces in Sep 2009 to gather initial information about the flooding. Upon returning the team conducted analysis and submitted a detailed report to the community identifying the causes of flooding. The report also proposed a diversion channel as a possible solution to the flooding..
After receiving initial feedback from the community, the EWB team was asked to return to Las Cruces to gather the additional technical data necessary to be able to develop construction drawings for the diversion channel. During the second trip the team performed a topographic survey, supervised the digging of test pits along the proposed ditch alignment, analyzed area geology, identified drainage paths and land use in the watershed, obtained mapping data, and coordinated with local government agencies to obtain additional engineering data.
Our team completed plans for a new stormwater bypass channel to alleviate chronic flooding in the community in 2012. In 2013, we continued to follow up with the government agency (Segeplan) that will be overseeing the implementation of the project. In 2014 and continuing on to today, Segeplan is currently constructing a project very similar and inspired by our design, showing a successfull empowerment of local government agency.
In the ending months of 2013 and 2014, our team also worked to provide a clean, reliable water source for the recently relocated community health clinic. We used data from previous trips, new data provided by the NGO, and data acquired on a visit to the community by two team members to design a new protected (drill-type) well for the clinic. The design was immediately accepted by the NGO, who decided to rush forward to self-implementation using their own funds, again showing successful technical assistance, empowerment, and complete handover by local groups. We believe this outcome is very much in-line with EWB-USA end goals and mission statement. Currently the team is on the lookout for needs indicative of future projects in Las Cruces, or are considering closing out the program.