Chiche handwashing project in Guatemala; Chiche handwashing project in Guatemala;

WaSH Guatemala, Chiche

Switching on the taps takes engineering, education and ownership

Water is a fundamental resource that contributes to public health and is used for the most basic needs such as drinking, domestic use, cleaning, and food production, among others. It has been recognized as a human right by the UN General Assembly. Unfortunately, there are still many communities around the world that don’t have access to safe and affordable water. Many of these communities face various challenges associated with lack of resources, including lack of information about hygiene and sanitation.

The small town of San Francisco in the municipality of Chiché is in the dry corridor of the Guatemalan Highlands. A growing population and the effects of climate change are affecting the availability and reliability of traditional water sources, exacerbating what’s already a limited access to running water. As a result, water supplies are often fractured, contaminated, or hard to access. 

It is common for communities to collectively source potable water from remote springs or, at household level, use homemade rainwater collection systems during rainy seasons. Communities lacked the expertise and resources to manage their water systems in a manner that ensures a safe and reliable supply. Sanitation provision and practices also needed improvement with lack of available latrines or water for proper sanitation. 

The community, recognizing their need for change and with a strong desire for potable water sought out the help of Engineers Without Borders. Recognizing the role we could play for this community and as part of our community engagement Global Challenge, which supports projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Arup committed to aid in the delivery of  potable water and sanitation services with this community.


Project Summary

15% of people have access to potable water

10%of people use safe sanitation services

57%of children under five are chronically malnourished

Engineering and education go hand in hand

Arup has supported Chiché’s municipal government program to manage, operate, and maintain the rural water systems, as well as provided household water meters to encourage sustainable consumption and management. The Arup team designed an innovative gravity-based distribution network that effectively transports water across challenging topography. A combination of pipe types, sizes, and slopes was carefully designed and modelled to minimize losses and ensure flow from the spring to houses traveling over 8km in total in some areas. Particularly noteworthy is an automated system for designing river crossing infrastructure, which was presented at the national conference of Engineers Without Borders. Due to the uncertain number of river crossings required, we developed a parametric design tool that utilized excel and GSA to quickly output cable and pier sizes for quick, yet reliable design turnaround when workers were in the field. Arup also undertook a comprehensive assessment and inventory of local rural water sources and infrastructure and provided support and training for municipal staff to increase cooperation between the municipal government and local water committees.

In addition to developing safely managed potable water infrastructure, the project aimed to implement household sanitation services. Through community sanitation workshops and latrine construction training we helped enable the community to build their own water systems. We also provided hygiene and sanitation education in local schools and health centres. These workshops were designed to include exercises in the form of games, using characters and images to describe important moments for handwashing and best practices for hygiene and sanitation. The workshop and materials were translated into K’iche, the local language, and community members of all ages were able to participate and engage with the materials. At the end of the workshop, we shared flyers that summarized the key points and provided posters to place outside the latrines as a reminder to practice handwashing.

President of the local water committee, Domingo, engages with the local community members. President of the local water committee, Domingo, engages with the local community members.
President of the local water committee, Domingo, engages with the local community members. The community was excited for EWB and Arup to be there on the assessment trip

This project is vital to the people. It is vital for life of our young children, teenagers and adults. Without water we cannot live. ” Angel Ren Guarcas Mayor of Chiché

Value for the community

New potable water infrastructure, sanitation, and hygiene practices have had a positive impact on the health and well-being of the community and provided significant benefits for vulnerable groups. Women especially benefit as they are primarily responsible for getting water which can take multiple hours a day. With taps at each home, women generally have more time to work or prioritise other tasks. We also hope to see an increase in school attendance from the children who will no longer be afflicted with water borne diseases or have to spend time getting water each day. 

"Having improved access to sanitation improves people’s health and you can see how important that is to these people.” Steve Crowe, Guatemala Country Director, Engineers Without Borders - USA

Continuing support during the pandemic

Due to travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, all trips to Chiché to support construction were unfortunately cancelled. To continue support, our team put together design documents for construction and programming to teach the community best practices related to the new sanitation infrastructure. We engaged more with the community, Engineers Without Borders, and our construction foreman over the phone and email sharing photos, questions, and updates regularly to continue support even from afar. While the circumstances of the pandemic caused us to redefine how we engaged with this project, we are excited to see the construction be completed and these impactful resources be shared with the community.  

Deep partnership 

In addition to our Arup team and close partnership with the community, we teamed with Water for People and Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB) to design and build the new potable water system and improved sanitation facilities. The Arup team provided technical support for the design and construction of latrines, a spring box, conduction line, storage tank, and water distribution system of 9km in length. In addition, we hosted workshops with community stakeholders to teach basic hygiene education and WaSH system maintenance education.



Thank you for Arup’s partnership. Our work won’t exist without our volunteers and we appreciate all that Arup’s done to bring clean water [to this community]. ” Andrea, EWB

Turning ideas into solutions with a global impact

By utilizing our wide network of employees, we brought together people from many disciplines to work collaboratively on creative solutions for this rural community. These meaningful outcomes are a product of the diversity within Arup and the teamwork enabled through the Global Challenge Initiative. Using the UN Sustainable Development Goals to guide us, we worked alongside the community and municipality with the ultimate goal of enabling the community to maintain their own systems and the local municipality to have the resources and knowledge to replicate this project for other communities withing Chiche. Beyond this municipality, we hope by sharing our materials, anyone interested in aiding in the development of sustainable WaSH infrastructure can utilize this platform as a launching point for greater impact. 

Contact us at [email protected]