Ngäbe-Buglé Water System Renovations

Requesting support from our donors

Total Project Cost: These small-scale water system renovation projects typically cost $3,000 – $7,000

Project Location: Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé and Bocas del Toro, Panama

Program Background

The Ngäbe-Buglé people are Panama’s largest indigenous group, comprised of 260,000 Ngäbes and 25,000 Buglé.  Most people live in the protected reserve, the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. A portion of the population live outside of the boundaries of the Comarca in the adjacent provinces of Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, and Veraguas. The Ngäbe-Buglé communities are scattered along the forested boundaries in undeveloped tracts of land where they live on subsistence agriculture.

Since 2002, WEFTA has worked with Waterlines, the sister organization of WEFTA, to assist these communities with improvement of their water supplies and their community capacity to manage the piped water resource. Many of these indigenous communities have applied for and received funding to construct piped water systems. They have also received training from our Circuit Riders on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) management.

Community Background 

Over the years, WEFTA and Waterlines in coordination with our in-country coordinators, and Peace Corps Volunteers have worked in over 160 communities primarily comprised of the Ngäbe people living in the Comarca and Bocas del Toro regions of Panama. WEFTA and Waterlines along with support from the US Peace Corps have assisted these communities in improving their physical WASH resources and have trained local leaders on water system operation and maintenance.

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Concerns 

Based on our most recent post-construction follow-up trip in early 2022, we found that the populations in multiple communities have grown to exceed the supply of the water systems. Water committee members are struggling to provide water to community households, schools, and health clinics.  In some areas, there are so many users on the system that water does not get delivered to all the connections. 

The challenges of community growth are magnified during the dry season when the protected spring water sources diminish. Additionally, although the members of the community have done a great job with system operation and maintenance, many components of the water system infrastructure are aging and in need of repair or replacement.

Proposed Projects 

Our Trip Report compiled from recent visits to communities by WEFTA volunteers detail the individual needs of each of the five Ngäbe-Buglé Indigenous communities. The proposed water system improvements and renovations generally include increasing source and storage capacity including:

  • construction of additional spring boxes
  • repair, replacement, or construction of additional water storage tanks
  • installation or replacement of additional taps, to serve new households

Sustainability Considerations

The local water committees and community members will continue their training on proper operation and maintenance of the system put in place to ensure sustainability. WEFTA volunteers and circuit riders will make annual visits to the five communities for post construction follow-up.

Community Engagement

In addition to water committee training and community WASH education, the communities will contribute more than 25% of the project cost in labor and local materials. The local government will provide material transport. 

WEFTA Volunteers

WEFTA will donate engineering and post-construction follow-up to this project equating to 15% of the total project cost.

If you would like additional information about this project, please contact us.

Donate to Ngäbe-Buglé Water System Renovations

Poverty levels are
above 70%
in the indigenous areas of Panama, known as comarcas.

High rates of poverty translates to low levels of access to basic resources such as adequate clean water and sanitation.

Our commitment is to the long-term success of the projects we’re involved with and it doesn’t stop when construction is complete.