Confronting drought and climate change through solidarity and sustainability in Sabana Mula, Dominican Republic – Cecy Cuevas

July 7, 2017

As the MDP program allows you to pursue your passions in development, I have devoted my graduate career to finding ways to improve the quality of life through reducing inequalities and enhancing living conditions in poor and/or rural communities. 

For my practicum this summer, I am working with Engineers Without Borders University of Arizona chapter (EWB-UA), which has begun a new irrigation project in Sabana Mula, a rural farming and agricultural community located in the Dominican Republic near the Haiti border. The community of Sabana Mula is solely dependent on rain during the wet season to irrigate their crops and sustain food production systems. Currently, there is no irrigation system in place and with a limited supply of water the community of Sabana Mula struggles to satisfy it's food needs and maintain it's commercial food markets.

I have the privilege of living in Sabana Mula, DR for two months this summer to see and experience the problems that confront this community. Now a month in, I have talked to nearly 20 different households and over 40 people about how a severe drought due to a changing climate has affected their way of life. Every year, the people of Sabana Mula spend time preparing land for a new harvest with hope and faith in God that it will rain so they can sell what they cultivate for everyday basic necessities and make it through the year. In these last weeks there has been some rain but  the rain came just some weeks too late as many fields of corn planted in the beginning of this year have all been lost. 

Corn field


Other organizations have implemented other projects in this region that have varied in their time of completion or have stopped completely. A new school being constructed has come to a complete halt and with only one school located close enough for students to walk to (which only goes to fourth grade) many fear for the future of their children. With little help from the Dominican Republic government, the region of Sabana Mula struggles with no employment opportunities, no paved roads, no transportation system to nearby cities, and limited access to markets. Just over two years Sabana Mula has had electricity, a project that changed many living conditions throughout the community. However, electricity still does not function entirely leaving many households with electricity less than 15 hours a day. In my interviews, many people have informed me that electricity and water are projects that the community very much awaits in order to improve their living conditions. They have one already and they desperately are waiting for a sufficient supply of water. 

EWB has partnered with INDRHI (Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos) in the Dominican Republic to help build wells in the community followed by irrigation systems to distribute water for Sabana Mula's crop fields. The inability to irrigate fields has diminished the diversification of crops to consume and sell in Sabana Mula. Corn and peanuts have been the main crops heavily grown in the regionas they can withstand dry spells. However, as mentioned, corn continue to be lost from the lack of water to irrigate crops. To satisfy food needs that are not sufficiently met, many sell livestock (if they have any) and buy from local markets (colmados). However, livestock are affected as well as they are dependent on grass. Without water for grass to grow, they too suffer.

This new irrigation project can improve the overall conditions of life in Sabana Mula. In my research, the community feels with water they can grow many other crops they can sell and consume. In order for positive results and development to happen many internal problems within the community have to be resolved. The community of Sabana Mula are hard workers and hope for better yields of crops every year, but without greater expertise, capacity and community solidarity this project will only be a temporary fix. It is our aim to gather useful data to create an accurate picture of the water situation here in the hope of empowering the community of Sabana Mula to find a lasting and sustainable solution.


Cecy Cuevas
Master's Development Practice Candidate, 2018
University of Arizona