In a place with plentiful rain, the idea of drought in the Dominican Republic seems almost unfathomable. But the country is facing its worst drought in 20 years due to El Niño, a global weather phenomenon that has a drying effect in Central America and the Caribbean. In the country's provinces of Monseñor Nouel and Sánchez Ramírez, growing rural populations and intermittent service from local water utilities have heightened the conditions.
Through public-private partnerships, Barrick has supported the construction of 41 aqueducts which are increasing water access for about 12,000 people in 26 communities near Barrick's Pueblo Viejo mine. Twenty-two of the aqueducts were built by Barrick and local municipalities; the other 19 were constructed and refurbished as part of the company's partnership with ENDA, a non-governmental organization focused on sustainable development.
Communities were using the same water that they used for livestock and agricultural activities.
"Before the construction or restoration of aqueducts, communities were using the same water that they used for livestock and agricultural activities," says Mamerto Valerio, a regional representative for ENDA. "Chemicals used to treat crops would often seep into their water sources, contaminating them."
Barrick Pueblo Viejo has been improving and building rural aqueducts in local communities since 2007. Before building or restoring an aqueduct, ENDA and Barrick ask participating communities to form water committees to administer, manage and educate local residents about the aqueducts and safe water usage.
"Because the water that flows though the aqueducts is not treated, these committees teach their community members to safely boil the water or treat it with chlorine prior to consuming it," says Welinton Otañez, Barrick Pueblo Viejo´s Social Responsibility Coordinator.
The committees are trained by ENDA, Barrick and INAPA, the Dominican government agency that administers potable water distribution and sanitation. Some committees have implemented a small tax to finance the repair and maintenance of their infrastructure.
Hilario Francisco, a member of the water committee for the town of Las Lagunas, emphasizes the need to create and strengthen these committees. "In the case of our aqueduct, the committees help to ensure more equitable water distribution in our communities because it serves Las Lagunas, La Cerca and La Piñita," he says.
Some of the aqueducts source their water supply from small rivers or creeks. But in most cases, Barrick and ENDA dig a 60- to 130-foot-deep hole to access groundwater for the communities. This water is then pumped into artificial basins for storage. Some of the water infrastructure features solar-powered water pumps due to a lack of electricity.
"These projects are not only helping to solve a serious water scarcity problem, they are also helping us form a strong bond with our host communities," says Faby Manzano, Barrick Pueblo Viejo's Social Responsibility Manager. "The communities are beginning to appreciate that when we say we will share the benefits of mining with them, these aren't just words – we mean what we say."
Barrick's partnership with ENDA began in 2012 with a program to reforest the Colinas Bajas–Los Haitises Mountains in the Dominican Republic. The goal of the project was to plant more trees along these mountains to control erosion, increase the soil's fertility, and allow local families to supplement their income by harvesting the fruit and timber from the trees.
"Previously, farmers managed their livestock in a way that did not allow the ground time to recover from grazing and herding," says Valerio. "This in turn affected the soil's fertility and ability to retain water."
Since kicking off in 2012, the program has borne fruit, literally and figuratively. With Barrick's support, the ENDA-led project has sowed 1.2 million saplings across 6,000 hectares. Some of these trees are harvested for fruit, such as coconuts and cacao, while others are used for charcoal, biofuel and timber production. All of these saplings are purchased by ENDA from 15 tree nurseries that the organization created within local communities.
The nursery and agroforestry programs benefit 6,000 families across 553 communities who sell saplings, fruit or wood to support local demand. Many families have benefited from their involvement in both programs, as well as the aqueduct program.
"This is an important project," says Martina Bautista, who runs a nursery in Sabana del Rey, a community less than four kilometers from Barrick's Pueblo Viejo mine. "Before, I only tended to the house and my husband worked, but then he developed a back ailment and I started this nursery, which has helped us a lot."