Increasing access to water for communities in the Dominican Republic

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Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of people, a figure that is projected to increase as a result of climate change. By 2050, it is projected that at least one in four people will be affected by recurring water shortages. Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030 requires greater investment in infrastructure, sanitation facilities and hygiene programmes at every level. All ICMM members implement the 10 principles that underpin our Sustainable Development Framework. Principle 6 requires companies to continually improve their environmental performance which includes water management.

When the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force in January 2016, the nations of the world committed to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Business has a significant part to play, alongside governments and civil society, in creating pathways for a greener, safer and sustainable future for us all. Metals and minerals are essential to almost all aspects of everyday life; they enable farming, healthcare, communications, construction, transport and energy and water supply. And they will arguably become more important as they help to deliver the infrastructure required for a low-carbon future. This is one of a series of case studies gathered from our members to highlight how companies are working to enhance their contribution to society and help industry to manage potential adverse impacts their activities may have on the realisation of some of the SDGs.

During 2015 the Dominican Republic was facing its worst drought in 20 years, due to El Nino. In the country’s provinces of Monseñor Nouel and Sánchez Ramírez, growing rural populations and intermittent service from local water utilities have heightened conditions.

In response, through partnerships with local municipalities and an NGO, Barrick’s Pueblo Viejo mine has supported the construction of 41 aqueducts, increasing water access for about 12,000 people in 26 communities near the company’s Pueblo Viejo mine.

Context for water access challenges

The Pueblo Viejo gold-silver mine is located approximately 100 kilometers northwest of the capital city of Santo Domingo, and is operated by Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation, which is a joint venture between Barrick (60%) and Goldcorp (40%). The mine represented the largest foreign investment in the history of the Dominican Republic. It began commercial production in January 2013.

The mine began improving and building rural aqueducts in local communities in 2007. Prior to the construction or restoration of aqueducts, communities were using the same water for drinking that they used for livestock and agricultural activities. Chemicals used to treat crops would often contaminate the water sources.

In response, 22 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 sustainability-focused NGO.

Prior to working on the aqueducts, ENDA, Barrick and INAPA (the government agency responsible for potable water) asked participating communities to form water committees to administer, manage and educate local residents about the aqueducts and safe water usage. Water flowing through the aqueducts is not treated, so community members are instructed to boil or chlorinate the water before usage.

In some cases the committees work to ensure equitable distribution of water among users. Other committees have implemented a small tax to finance repair and maintenance of the infrastructure, which includes solar-powered water pumps, and artificial storage basins.

The project is not only addressing a serious social need but, through the establishment of committees, it is helping to improve relations between the company and host communities.

As well as improving access to water the company and ENDA have collaborated to provide agroforestry opportunities for local communities, with many residents involved in both the water committees and agroforestry enterprises.

Prior to the agroforestry project, livestock was managed in ways that did not allow the ground water sufficient time to recover from grazing and herding, which in turn affected the soil’s fertility and ability to retain water. The project’s goal was to plant more trees in the mountainous local areas in order to control soil erosion, increase soil fertility and allow local families to supplement their income by harvesting fruit and timber from the trees.

Since 2012, the programme has sowed 1.2million saplings across 6000 hectares. Saplings are purchased by ENDA from 15 tree nurseries that the NGO created within local communities, bringing a further local benefit. 

Outcomes

Companies can play a potentially significant role in improving water access in local communities, whether by working in partnership with local municipalities and NGOs or taking a lead role in programme development.

However, ensuring that such arrangements are sustainable in the long term needs special attention as mines have a finite life. Creating community-based committees with a stake in the ongoing success of a project can help mitigate this risk.

ICMM members supporting the SDGs