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Working to Closer Tolerances, Observation #3


Below I provide a lens and a context for a conversation. I then provide a specific observation. I have multiple observations which I will present over a series of days. Hopefully this will permit you to read the whole post and also leave comments. Any and all comments, expecially personal experiences and other observations, would be much appreciated.


Before leaving for Peru I attempted to obtain information about the cost and duration of a bus trip from Lima (the capital city) to Chiclayo where I would be completing my fellowship. Either as a result of my limited internet research abilities or the general lack of information published on the net, I failed. In my search, however I saw the following sentence about Peruvian taxi drivers: “They don’t often hit anyone, but they work to closer tolerances than taxi drivers in the USA do.” (

The phrase “working to closer tolerances” struck me as lens for analysis of the developing world. The phrase invokes ideas of efficiency and perfection, but also risk and cost. One might be led to think of a machinist who must properly cut each thread of a bolt for a nuclear reactor to within 100,00ths for an inch in order to mantain the integrity of the reactor and protect the populace. The perfection of the machinist’s work may create a reactor which can supply power for millions at a high level of efficieny, but the construction costs are incredibly high and the risk of failure bears grave consequences.

In the developing world a large portion of the population works to closer tolerances than those in the developed world are accustomed. This is not to say that the either the developing world or developed world are nuclear reactors in compasion with each other (although esoteric philosophers and politicians could undoubtedly draw a metaphor). Instead it is to say that residents of the developing world often make incredibly efficient use of limited resources and face a high level of risk on a daily basis.

I won’t beat the metaphor of closer tolerances to death, but keep it in mind when thinking about the observations elaborated below.

Observation #3:

I was in Peru once before, about three years ago. At risk of being grotesque, lets just say that my stomach and the food/water combination didn’t necessarily agree. I spent a number of days visiting the bathroom on a regular basis. Before heading to Peru this time I spoke with a friend of mine who was born and raised in Trujillo, Peru. I asked, “Do even the locals drink the water?” His response was a flat, “NO.” Even if they drink tap water, they always boil it. (Note: He is from a developed city and answers may vary by region and individual.)

The reasons for the need to purify the water are many and likely vary substantially depending on the part of Peru. In the case of Chiclayo it is my understanding that the water comes from two reserviors in the area. The water is transferred from the reseviors into many smaller tanks that are installed throughout the city. Residents use their own pumps to pull water from these tanks to their homes and raise it up to their roofs so that they can have running water. (Note: This system is note universal. Parts of the city are only served by communal spigots, others only served by a periodic truck delivery.)

Across this system the water has many chances to become contaminated. The governmental or private utility providers have not invested substantially in ensuring that potable water actually proves to be potable. Like the case of the holes in the street, this responsibility is assumed by the individual resident.

One of the major causes of death of children and elderly is dehydration resulting from diahrea or other gastro-intestinal ailments. Partially as a result of Peru’s weak water treatment facilities, the infant mortality rate in Peru is 28.62/1,000 compared to 6.22/1,000 in the USA.

In places that do not have purified water readily available, the residents must apply constant vigilance and support significant expense to purify their drinking water. Illness can often come directly from the source which is meant to solve the problem, water. One of the major causes of death of children and elderly is dehydration resulting from diahrea or other gastro-intestinal ailments. Partially as a result of Peru’s weak water treatment facilities, the infant mortality rate in Peru is 28.62/1,000 compared to 6.22/1,000 in the USA.

Here in Peru a sick individual must purify their water in order to promote recovery, a mother must constantly work to ensure her baby doesn’t drink his/her bath water and flushing a wound in the case of first aid may introduce the bacteria that it was meant to remove.

But, how does one boil water without access to electricity, gas, wood or any other fuel? How long does it take to boil water? How much water can an individual reasonably store and what is the cost to doing so? Can the individual access enough water on a daily basis to even create storage? All of these questions represent a reduction in an individual’s disposable income and in his/her available time to dedicate to other endeavours. There is a limitiation on the ability of an individual to overcome their impoverished situation.

Improvements to homes are imperative to assisting poor individuals. EDPYME Alternativa has created a Home Improvement loan and a Water & Sanitation For All loan. These loans are directed at segements of the population who can reasonably improve their access to utilities such as water, electricty, and sewer through credit. Such improvements can signficantly increase the individual’s standard of living. Most specifically, in the case of this post, by reducing the expense and time involved in obtaining purified water. The improved standard of living will often translate directly into greater opportunity to pursue income generate activities.

Casey Unrein KF 12 joined the Kiva Fellows program in Sept. 2010. Prior to becoming a Fellow, Casey worked with a fiduciary management company in Seattle, WA, providing financial management services for minors, the elderly and the disabled. Casey completed a bachelors in Economics and Education at Occidental College. He expects to become a certified public accountant by March of 2010. Casey is currently a Fellow with EDPYME Alternativa in Chiclayo, Peru. He requests your support for as a whole and EDPYME Alternativa in particular. Please join the lending team: Friends of EDPYME Alternativa in order to raise awareness of the outstanding work the institution is completing in Peru.

About the author

Casey Unrein