Shuar Health Team, UC Berkeley: Safe Water and Sanitation Project, Pastaza, Ecuador

Alisar Aoun
Civil Engineer
Nolte Associates
San José, California

A breathtaking view into the Rio Pastaza river valley from the Shuar village of Shakap, where water holes are few and highly contaminated.

The first canon of the Civil Engineering Code of Ethics is to "hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and to strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development..." In 2006, I graduated from UC Berkeley with high hopes for living out these principles, but working in industry can feel like the other end of the spectrum. In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Ecuador for two months, with an interdisciplinary group of UC Berkeley students working for the health of the indigenous Shuar people in the Pastaza region—Amazon territory east of the Andes. Water tests and surveys which showed high levels of E. coli in riverwater, which people use for drinking water, pointed to a need for water and sanitation intervention against the spread of waterborne diseases. (Diarrhea is the number-one killer of children under age five worldwide.) To combat this, I would help lead the construction of rainwater catchment tanks, putting my engineering background towards a very basic and critical need; plus I would have a rare opportunity to hike and sleep in the Amazon!

The plan seemed simple on paper. Two engineering students and I used a basic recipe for ferrocement tanks from a guide for water systems in developing regions. In few words, it consisted of erecting a cylinder of wire mesh, wrapping it in chicken wire, and plastering over with a couple inches of cement-rich concrete. We built tanks around 5' high, and 5' to 8' in diameter, storing 2,000 to 6,000 gallons of water. A tin roof serves the "catchment" part of the design; gutter and pipes channel the rainwater into the tank. A pipe from the bottom of the tank leads to a faucet. Rain pours hard every day with occasional dry spells, filling the tanks with non-contaminated water, as an alternative to riverwater.

The first pilot rainwater catchment tank constructed by the Shuar Health Team in Pastaza, Ecuador, after it was painted by the family of the house.

The complexities of this seemingly simple development project would challenge my wide-eyed enthusiasm and spirit from all angles. In one community, members were troubled when a construction worker asked me how the thin-walled, circular tank was better than conventional, thick rectangular tanks made with rebar that he had seen. I babbled about forces, circles and squares; would I tell them that this tank has a low to no factor of safety? In another community, after my colleague described the construction process, unconvinced locals took over materials, and built a tank by pouring thick concrete walls into wooden forms, defeating the purpose of our economical design. I began to wonder about the unintended ways in which drinking water would be diverted after one member asked me how he could connect showers to the tank. These interactions also made me question how, in intending to improve health in a historically marginalized and exploited population, we were nourishing that historical dependence on the "outside" by completely supplying the materials and idea. This dependence on the outside is still visible today in the forms of gasoline generators and enormous music stereos that one may find, to great surprise, deep in the jungle; these are just a few "gifts" from the Ecuadorian Department of Mining, and other special interests.

This winter, I returned to Ecuador for three weeks to find the tanks still whole; but standing tanks would not be, as I suspected in the summer, a measure of success. Out of the five roadside communities where we constructed concrete tanks, two never completed installation of the roofs on new houses, the essential component in capturing rainwater. In two other communities, each family already had in-house access to hosed water originating from a mountain spring, and thus did not complete or need their tanks. The fifth roadside community is the only one in which families do not have household taps, and in which the tanks were built at schoolhouses rather than at homes (typically the community leader's home). While visiting there, I saw many schoolchildren and women bringing their cups and storage containers to the tanks for drinking water throughout the day. Great! Although, after draining the tank we found a thick layer of muck and dead bugs at the bottom. Since jumping into the dark, humid tank was not so pleasant, it was easy to see why the maintenance process had been neglected. Besides, who would sacrifice their time to clean something that everyone used, and probably in different proportion? We also installed several large plastic rainwater tanks in five "interior" communities, which are between two- and eight-hour hikes from the road. There, all communities, not having any water infrastructure, used their tanks and one successfully rotated among their members to clean them regularly.

Men in the Shuar community, Kunkuk, plaster the second tank by the schoolhouse on their own, after having learned and participated in the construction of the first.

There were some of the unanticipated issues faced in implementation and follow-up. In my quest to solve one problem, I felt I had jumped into the larger development whirlpool. In the world's most ecologically diverse country, on a scenic bus ride between the Andes and Amazon, riders munched on fried fast food, and chucked their plastic trash out the window into the pristine river valley. New roads advanced deeper into the jungle, granting remote indigenous communities mobility and access to the city, but also vast deforestation, bus pollution and accidents, higher rates of diabetes and alcoholism, and replacement of indigenous culture. Locals paved through their own communities and cut down their own trees for cash. Women in the jungle cooked over smoky wood-burning stoves, and gave birth to a dozen children, starting in their adolescence. Not only would water and sanitation improvements need to go in hand with education and community collaboration, but understanding the political, ecological and social dynamics could make the difference between something really sustainable and just another charity project.

Community members of all ages in San Ramon help plaster a new tank at their schoolhouse.

Alisar Aoun is a civil engineer at Nolte Associates and plans to attend a graduate program in the fall in the interdisciplinary arena of engineering and social and environmental justice. She can be reached at (408) 309-4849 or For more information on the Shuar Health Team, please go to





The Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Program

Leonard K. Bernstein, P.E., F.NSPE
Special Projects Coordinator (retired)
City of Philadelphia Water Department
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Nobody knew that there was going to be a Democratic victory parade on November 5, 1958, until about an hour before it assembled at the courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia. There were 14 cars lined up in front of the courthouse. All bore placards identifying them as Democratic cars, and all of them looked like proper Democratic cars except the baby blue Cadillac that stood empty at the head of the line.

The cars just sat there. All, except the Cadillac, were filled with people, but there was a singular absence of enthusiasm.

The lethargy continued unabated even when a cab stopped alongside the Cadillac and out stepped Jennings Randolph. The people gathered for the victory parade didn't say anything and neither did the newly-elected senator from West Virginia.

Thus began Jennings Randolph's 26-year career as a U.S. Senator.

  Jennings Randolph

Jennings Randolph's political career began in 1930 when he was unsuccessful in his bid to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District. Benefiting from Franklin D. Roosevelt's landslide victory, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1932 and served from 1933 until 1947, following his defeat in the Republican landslide of 1946.

During his time in the House, he championed the disabled and supported the right to vote, renewable energy, public works, the environment, and aviation and aerospace.

Although we in the public works profession consider Jennings Randolph to be the Dean of Public Works Legislators, he was also known as the Father of Modern American Commercial Aviation and the Father of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.

Being an aviation enthusiast, he was a strong advocate for programs to advance air travel and airport development and sponsored the Civil Aeronautics Act in 1938 that created the Civil Aeronautics Authority with the power to regulate airline fares and to determine the routes that air carriers would serve. In addition to being an early proponent of the commercial aviation industry, he was a strong advocate of the development of a system of national roads that resulted in legislation that led to the creation of our current Interstate Highway System. His campaign for the modernization of American roads began in 1937 when he chaired the House Roads Committee.

As an advocate for the right to vote, Jennings Randolph sponsored an amendment to the U.S. Constitution 11 times that would grant citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 the right to vote. He first introduced the amendment in 1942, arguing that young soldiers fighting in World War II should have the right to vote. In 1970, while Randolph was in the U.S. Senate, amendments to the Voting Rights Act lowered the voting age to 18 in both local and national elections. However, after the Supreme Court determined that Congress only had the power to lower the voting age for national elections, Senator Randolph reintroduced the amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the states as the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in 1971, less than 100 days after it was approved by Congress.

After Jennings Randolph left the House of Representatives in 1947, he entered the private sector, becoming a professor of public speaking and Dean of the School of Business Administration at Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., and assistant to the president and director of public affairs for Capital Airlines, which would later be purchased by United Airlines.

He returned to the political life upon his election to the U.S. Senate in 1958 where he remained until he decided not to run again in1984. He left the Senate in January 1985 after having chaired the Senate Public Works Committee from 1966 until 1977 when the committee was renamed the Environment and Public Works Committee. He continued to chair the committee until 1981.

To honor the Dean of Public Works Legislators following his retirement from the Senate in 1985, the APWA International Public Works Federation (IPWF) established the Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Fund at the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute in May 1987 to promote international public works cooperation by providing an opportunity for APWA members to travel to certain international countries to exchange experiences and information about trends and advances in the public works field with our international public works colleagues.

The Eisenhower World Affairs Institute was founded in 1983 by colleagues and confidants of President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a nonpartisan, nonprofit, presidential legacy organization striving to embody President Eisenhower's model of public policy formation and leadership. In 2000, the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute merged with the Center for Political and Strategic Studies to form the Eisenhower Institute with Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the late President, as President of the Institute.

The goals of the Eisenhower Institute include encouraging, developing and sponsoring civic discourse on significant issues of public policy, both domestic and international, that bridge the perspectives of scholars, policy makers, students and citizens by providing scholarships, fellowships, internships and other sponsored opportunities. These goals fit with the ideals of the IPWF and APWA to exchange public works ideas and promote friendship among public works staffs on an international basis.

The IPWF eventually morphed into the APWA International Affairs Committee (IAC) that maintains cooperative agreements between APWA and our international partners in the countries of Australia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, New Zealand and the Slovak Republic, and it is the IAC that continues the legacy of the IPWF by administering the Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Program on behalf of APWA.

Interested APWA members may apply to the IAC for consideration of being awarded a Jennings Randolph International Fellowship of up to $2,500 (USD) to assist with travel costs and other expenses incurred in conjunction with travel to one of APWA's international partner countries. The IAC reviews all applications and forwards recommendations for one or two fellowships for each selected country to the Eisenhower Institute as manager of the Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Fund. The Grants Committee of the Eisenhower Institute then selects the final winners.

The Jennings Randolph International Fellowship will be awarded annually on the basis of the funding that is available each year with one or two Fellowships being awarded for the selected countries.

A brochure detailing the Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Program and application is available online at the APWA website,

Leonard K. Bernstein, P.E., F.NSPE, retired in March after 32 years with the Water Department of the City of Philadelphia. He is the Chapter Delegate of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter and has been a member of APWA's International Affairs and Bylaws and Rules Committees and the APWA/IPWEA/INGENIUM Task Force. He can be reached at

2008 Jennings Randolph Fellowship Recipient Named

The American Public Works Association is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2008 Jennings Randolph Fellowship. Tricia Aragon, P.E., City Engineer for the City of Aspen, Colorado, was selected through a formal application process to present a public works/infrastructure-related paper at the New Zealand INGENIUM Annual Conference to be held in Gisborne, June 5-7, 2008. APWA holds an international partnership with INGENIUM, an organization that represents all people in New Zealand who manage, maintain and operate public infrastructure in New Zealand. Ms. Aragon will extend her stay to include a study tour on the role of public works in mitigating construction impacts of private development. She will also prepare an article for the APWA Reporter reflecting her experiences and findings.

The APWA International Affairs Committee looks forward to receiving applications for the 2009 international conferences in Australia, Mexico, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. To learn more about this program, please visit the APWA website at under "About APWA - International Activities" or contact Kaye Sullivan, APWA Deputy Executive Director, at or (800) 848-APWA, extension 5233.