Water makes life difficult in the barrio of Gualey. Dwellings—made of scraps of tin, plywood, fabric, anything to keep the rain and the sun out—are built into a severe hillside below Santo Domingo (population 4 million) and above the Ozama River. The frequent rains and the hurricane season send water from the city above cascading down the hillside, carrying trash and fetid waste water.
The rains also make the polluted river rise, trapping or displacing the 20,000 residents of the Gualey slum. They’re trapped by dirty water. They call it black water, a term plumbers know well.
But it isn’t the water from above or below that causes Gualey its most serious problems. It’s the water from within.
The Dominican Republic’s municipal water supply is notoriously porous. Underground pipes have been in disrepair for decades, leaving them susceptible to sewer leaks. The resulting contamination problem is the leading cause of death in children, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Residents can spend valuable time and fuel boiling water to kill parasites, buy overpriced water from local stores, or just drink the tap water as is. But there is now a fourth alternative, available through Cristo Justicia Nuestro (Christ Our Justice) church. In a system designed and installed by a Denver NGO called Healing Waters International, water passes through a filtration system of sand, carbon, chlorine, ultraviolet light, and reverse osmosis. The church dispenses tens
of thousands of gallons of water each day, charging just 10 pesos (about 31 cents) to fill a jug.