French Guiana: spring water… finally drinkable !

Guyane, eau, robinet, Phil La Bonté
French Guiana
French Guiana :
spring water…
finally drinkable !
liters of water treated every hour
the price per m3 of water in euros, like in Cayenne
residents and 32 households concerned
In the Amerindian village of Favard, in the municipality of Roura in French Guiana, the installation of a water treatment unit has given residents access to drinking water all year round. This is providing hygiene and comfort to over 30 families, while developing ecotourism services, which benefit all.

The Palicur Amerindian community has been settled along the River Oyack for 40 years, in Favard village in the municipality of Roura, in French Guiana. The village is located at about 30 km from the capital Cayenne and life there follows the incoming and outgoing flows of canoes. It takes twenty minutes for residents to reach Roura and the road network, as the village is only connected to the town in the municipality by a long road which is too often impassible.

Up until recently, the water supply was just as chaotic. The population was for a long time supplied by a spring located at less than 2 km from the village. However, it was untreated and regularly posed health problems, especially in the rainy season, when the spring water was murky and infested with germs… In 2002, the death of a newborn child prompted village leaders to demand drinking water from the urban community (CACL).

Thanks to EUR 200 000 of financing allocated by AFD, CACL has provided funding to secure drinking water production on the Favard site and bring it up to standards. The small treatment unit has the size of a container and was commissioned in September 2016 to treat spring water prior to distributing it in village households.

Guyane, river, Phil La Bonté
Guyane, water, Patricia, Phil La Bonté
Patricia : “Having a water meter means having a domicile”
Patricia Rosemon, 20 years old, a stay-at-home mother with two children, has always lived in Favard. She has known the various stages in water supply to the village.

“ When I was little, I remember that people used to bring us bottled water so that we could drink clean water. Every house had a tap and was already connected to the network supplied by the spring, but the water was not drinkable. During the rainy season, it turned red, tasted like mud, and we got sick easily.

As a mum, it is important to have drinking water for my children, especially for their health. I use water to cook, to do the washing up, for hygiene… But not too much, because we now have to pay for the water we use. It’s made us saving water. For example, I continue to take my bath in the river in the morning, routinely, but also to save money.

The advantage is that with the bills I can have a proof of domicile and carry out my administrative formalities. And as many of us don't have a job, the water has allowed an ecotourism model to be set up, which gives village residents the possibility of earning some money and showing visitors our culture and our know-how.

There is still work to be done on wastewater disposal. The village is not equipped for this and it would be a good thing if we could have toilets with a flush system one day ! For now, it’s complicated and only a few families have been able to install a septic tank at home.”
Guyane, water, Franck, Phil La Bonté
For Franky, “A wonderful small facility !”
Franky Joan, 27, is the grandson of the traditional chief and has lived in Favard village since he was born. In 2015, he was hired by the French Guiana Water Company (SGDE) to ensure the treatment plant runs properly.

“I’m there every day, ready to react if there is a problem or if a part needs to be replaced. I was trained for two months and I’m versatile : I can repair parts or inform SGDE about problems. Every day, I have to look at the pH, inject alumina, verify the turbidity [Editor’s Note : content of a fluid in matter which makes it murky] of the water, the level of chlorine… It’s a daily job and for every week, I have to restock the plant with chemical products (chlorine, alumina…).

It’s a small plant, but it’s wonderful ! It really has changed the lives of everyone in the village, they all wanted to be connected ! AFD and CACL took care of everything, we only had to pay for the meter and subscription. We are also treated like the other users in French Guiana, as the price per m3 is the same as everywhere else in the department.

Every household has been sensitized to water consumption. The fact that they have to pay for it has made people in the village saving water and making good use of their taps. Furthermore, all houses do not have a shower. But the advantage is that the bills now allow us to carry out our administrative formalities. It was a big problem in the village, especially to get a telephone subscription or receive welfare.”
Guyane, water, Jean, Phil La Bonté
Jean and drinking water which has “changed community life”
Jean Lucas is President of the association Walyku, which includes all the village residents. He is very involved in the life of his community, for example, every morning he takes the fifty or so pupils from Favard to the town of Roura where they then take the bus to go to their schools.

“ Since the treatment plant was commissioned, there has been a marked improvement in the daily lives of residents. They don’t need to go to the river any more to do their washing up or have a shower, they no longer need to buy large quantities of mineral water to be able to drink or cook, they no longer need to filter water in the rainy season, when it is murky… This has brought about real progress for the community and village life.

CACL and SGDE had to conduct major works, dig a trench to lay the water pipes between the spring, the treatment plant and the village. They subsequently installed a water meter for each home, where everyone can now use their taps without having to worry about the quality of the water which comes out of them.

Even though our village is not very affected by illegal gold mining, which takes place further away, in the vicinity of Cacao [Editor’s Note: a municipality further inland], there is still a presence of mercury and it can have consequences on pregnant women and the younger children. The fact that we have drinking water means that we no longer risk absorbing it. Unfortunately, it can be found in the fish we fish, but all species are not contaminated in the same way, and we know how to sort them to limit the impacts.”
Guyane, water plant, Phil La Bonté
A unique plant in French Guiana

The drinking water plant in Favard village is a unique facility in French Guiana, as all the machinery is in a container, installed below the water catchment system set up by residents when they arrived in 1973. The container was fully equipped in mainland France before being installed a few hundred meters away from the village. Inside, it is exactly the same system as in a conventional unit. This type of turnkey structure is often used in Africa or in emergency situations, such as in refugee camps. The model could be reproduced elsewhere in French Guiana.

The water is withdrawn from a small spring and transported to the plant to be treated. It goes through three large filters : sand and charcoal filters to eliminate suspended particles, then through a remineralization filter : in its natural state, French Guiana’s water is indeed very low in minerals. The water also goes through a chlorine tank, which kills bacteria, and through a flocculation tank, which ease settling. The pH and flow are constantly monitored. In front of the container, a 6 m3 storage tank is connected to 690 m of pipes which reach homes.

Guyane, water, ecotourism, Phil La Bonté
Ecotourism for all

For nearly four years now, the Amerindian community of Favard, which has been officially renamed “ Wayam ” (“ turtle ” in the Palicur language) has been working on a cultural ecotourism project. The associations Walyku (from the village) and Peupl’en Harmonie have laid the foundations for a new tourism model for French Guiana, based on the examples of Costa Rica and Peru. The aim, show the Amerindian culture, traditions and know-how – Palicur in this case – by involving the entire community.

In 2015, 200 tourists from French Guiana, Europe and elsewhere (South America, China, etc.) were consequently able to spend a day sharing the habits and customs of Amerindians, learn how to weave, engrave calabashes or recipes for traditional dishes. There were over 800 of them in 2017 and bookings are growing and growing. The project is also arousing interest among other Amerindian villages in French Guiana. 

This has a twofold interest for the community : it allows the profits from the activity to be redistributed to all participants and, especially, it revives their taste for their ancestral culture and for these traditions which were tending to be lost over the generations…

Here again, the supply made possible by the installation of the treatment plant “ really is a good thing ”, as Jean, the President of the association Walyku, explains. “ We can welcome people and offer them drinking water. This really helps the development of our activity! ”

The other projects for Favard

A study is currently being conducted for another 15 m3 tank in Favard. The urban community and French Guiana Water Company have implemented subsurface analyses to be able to build the foundations of this future “ water tower ”. For the time being, no date has been set and the current reservoir is sufficient for the village’s daily consumption. But the project would allow a continuous two-day water supply, even in the event of a breakdown at the plant.

The next projects for the village : electricity and wastewater disposal. For now, a few people have either photovoltaic panels or a generator to run their refrigerators or read by lamplight. But residents would like to have a more stable and more economical production that would allow everyone to have electricity at home. Studies are ongoing for wastewater – and waste – disposal.

Finally, as the village wishes to achieve its food self-sufficiency, several projects, such as the creation of aquaculture ponds, sheep farming or small areas of farmland, have been mentioned.

Guyane, water, Le Bonté
Favard Village - © Phil La Bonté / AFD