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Multidisciplinary Student Team Partners With Water For People To Assess Water And Sanitation Projects In Guatemala

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Project-Based Service Learning

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.896.1 - 14.896.16



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Paper Authors


Adam Czekanski United States Military Academy

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ADAM J. CZEKANSKI is an instructor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He teaches introductory courses in environmental science, environmental engineering, and hydrogeology. Mr. Czekanski’s academic and research interests include engineering education and drinking water treatment in developing nations. Mr. Czekanski is a licensed professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Multi-disciplinary team of students partners with Water For People in Guatemala


Six students and one faculty member teamed with Water For People in the western highlands of Guatemala during the Summer of 2008 to assess water supply, water quality, sanitation and hygiene issues in 35 remote villages. The multi-disciplinary team consisted of three environmental engineers, one environmental scientist, one human geographer, one international history major, and a Latin America studies major. Over the course of eight days, the team evaluated 35 water projects, 3 sanitation projects and administered 270 surveys to collect critical data related to water supply/quality and sanitation/hygiene practices. Most villages in the area receive drinking water from capped mountain springs fed into a distribution network that supply household taps. The physical integrity and design issues associated with the systems, as well as systemic maintenance issues, were identified during our assessment. Recurring issues included lack of proper training for basic system maintenance and operation, as well as insufficient tariffs from the local populace to purchase repair parts and chlorine. Hygiene was not an issue with regards to availability of soap, but instead with understanding the proper time and method of use in order to avoid recontamination. Data from the assessments were compiled into a final report detailing not only the physical issues from an engineering vantage point, but also the underlying social issues stemming from four decades of civil war. This paper addresses the importance not only of conducting projects in developing countries, but of also ensuring that the proper systems are in place to make projects sustainable over time. It also provides analysis of educational lessons learned by the students from this experience. Lastly, this paper outlines the key issues from our report and addresses solutions to those issues applicable not only to Guatemala, but to humanitarian assistance projects in general.

Key Words: Water, sustainability, Guatemala


Guatemala endured almost four decades of civil war that ended in 1996 with the signing of formal peace accords between government and opposition forces. The conflict left over 200,000 people dead and displaced between 500,000 to 1.5 million people.2 The indigenous Guatemalan populations of Mayan descent comprised the majority of these numbers. They have been a disenfranchised people since Spanish conquest in the region, and continued to be a race discriminated against and oppressed even after Guatemalan independence in 1821. Indigenous groups comprised 42% of the Guatemalan population at the time open conflict erupted in the early 1960s and they were largely viewed as a potential pool of guerrilla support to sustain the insurgency.5 State violence to repress subversive elements during the civil war grew steadily and reached a peak in the early 1980s when the military directed violence against all groups not showing loyalty to the government, with the vast majority of these being Mayan populations.4 The military targeted the Mayan community as a whole without accounting for the degree to which support was being given to insurgent groups.2,4 It was during this period that the largest

Czekanski, A. (2009, June), Multidisciplinary Student Team Partners With Water For People To Assess Water And Sanitation Projects In Guatemala Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5054

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