Control Water, Limit Disease

How Grey Water Projects in El Salvador are Preventing Sickness and Creating New Standards of Health 

For the people of Sitio Nuevo, El Salvador, grey water is an issue that everyone is aware of but few talk about.  While all the residents in the area, and many areas like it, recognize the problem of grey water and its unsanitary effects, they don’t always have the resources or skills to resolve the problem. This dilemma, as well as grey water’s rancid smell, make the subject a shameful one for many residents to discuss.  

You can find scenes like this around rural settings in third world countries where people cook and clean. The problem? The water has nowhere to flow after it falls to ground.

According to Matthew Parker, we first recognized the challenges of grey water in Sitio on our own property. Because of the low elevation of our property, grey water gravitates towards it. Over time, we have come up with various solutions to deal with it through diverting to areas where it can be directed underground and feed flower beds in front of our property or towards banana trees who can soak it up and filter out unwanted materials.

While bananas have a natural filtering system that prevents the water from affecting it, grey water cannot be utilized agriculturally. So, as people wash clothes, wash dishes, take showers, clean their homes, the water has to find a place to go. There is no city sewer infrastructure that naturally captures it all.  

And so the water sits. It gathers larvae. It becomes a nesting ground for mosquitoes which become hosts for Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika. Because this water most often sits near homes where families reside and children are busy playing, these diseases are a common and major public health issue.  

As we've learned effective ways of preventing flooding of crops and homes, and even how to re-route grey water to plants that can use it, we've been able to do the same for our neighbors in need.

Mike Johnson and Max Alvarez build a shower shelter that is more private and also is in a position to help water flow into a french drain and away from the house.

Two years ago, in December of 2015, a team from our organization was invited to the home of three youth siblings who lived a 45 minute walk from our property. Upon arriving, the grey water issues were just as we have described above. Over the course of the visit, the team discovered what seems to be the dilemma of most people in the area: the family despised the grey water and all of its associative issues, but didn’t know what to do about it.  

So, alongside a group of volunteers, we were able to move the family’s shower to a more private location and divert disposed water underground so that it would no longer pool up around their home and attract the pests and larvae and stench that it had previously been an issue.  

Then there is our neighbor Antonia, an elderly widow who cares for her adult daughter who is severely affected by cerebral palsy. The grading of the land around her house has made it so that when heavy rains come, her house flooded regularly.   

Again, with a team of volunteers, we were able to create a patio, extend her roof and find a way to divert water away from the house.  Antonia was skeptical, not knowing if the project would actually do what the team had hoped.  

After the team left, the rain began to come and a few people returned to the house to see if the water would do what they hoped. It did!  Antonia was so thankful.  

Antonia looks on seemingly wondering if the roof being installed on her house is actually the solution to a decades long problem of mud and standing water around her house.

These are two stories of ways we were able to use local resources to provide solutions to a very real problem. These solutions can be taught and duplicated appropriately in other situations in the area to remedy similar issues. Even now, awareness is spreading that there is something that can be done about what was previously understood as inevitable. 

More recently, Antonio, one our cooperatives, has gained excitement for these projects after learning through his Bible class that God has given us the responsibility to bring order to the environments in which we live.  He has begun eagerly drawing up diagrams and ideas for how to deal with grey water and other issues.  

Improper disposal of grey water is an issue that Salvadorans are aware of, but they should also have access to the dialogue, education and resources to do something about it. While puddles of water are for us often associated with children splashing or playing, when the puddle subsists, it breeds those diseases which leave children like those in Sitio Nuevo with life-altering diseases.  We are grateful to be bringing resolution to issues like this! Residents like Antonia won’t will no longer have to wonder if it is possible to resolve the issue, but they will see with their own eyes the product of such care.