Today, leaving out a half empty bottle of water and not considering it a serious concern should be alarming. This is because elsewhere in the world, on account of climate change and the increasing world population, access to clean drinking water has become very difficult.
According to UN agencies, more than 800 million people around the world cannot easily access safe drinking water. Women and girls cannot go to work and have to lug water the whole day for their households. There is also a concerning rise in water-related diseases.
Among all the continental regions across the globe, Latin America has made tremendous advancements in clean water and sanitation in the previous decades. In 1960, only 33% of the population had access to clean water. By the year 2000, 85% had safe drinking water. Today, only 5% to 7% do not have access to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation systems.
This rapid growth and improvement can be attributed to innovations. For a long time, nations in Latin America have organized initiatives that support the needs of its people. These initiatives are spearheaded by three main entities who have continuously worked to mitigate challenges in clean drinking water and sanitation across the region.
Below are a few initiatives carried out by social innovators, scientists, and policy makers in Latin America:
In Lima, Peru, there are nearly one million people who struggle day-by-day due to the lack of access to clean drinking water, sewage systems, electricity, and health centers. To improve the state of sanitation, the Fog Catcher Project generates clean water through filtering white sea fog that blankets coastal parts of Lima for nine months of the year. This project is executed on the mountain slopes where more slums are located. At present, the project is providing clean water to more than 100,000 households.
Meg fog catcher on Lima’s mountain slopes during winter.
In Guatemala, Engineer Fernando Mazariegos created EcoFiltro—a ceramic pot filtration technology that eliminates bacteria and parasites from water. Ecofiltro’s mission is to reach all Guatemalans who lack access to safe and clean water. The technology is easy to install and does not require electricity for its operation. Currently, there are 58 factories in 38 countries and its operations extend to Africa, Latin America and South East Asia.
Marino Morikawa—a Japanese-Peruvian scientist—used nano-technology to decontaminate and restore the El Cascajo wetlands in Peru, back into a clean lake in 4 months. The lake was alleged to be extremely contaminated by illegal landfills. It should be noted that the process did not use artificial chemicals to decontaminate the water. At present, it is slowly becoming a sanctuary for migratory birds in the area.
Cleaning process at El Cascajo Lake.
Photo credit: Morikawa Group.
Initiatives from the Academe
In terms of scientific initiatives, there are two notable innovations made by Latin American Scientists in converting water for human consumption at a large scale using new methods.
Toth Research and Laboratory—a Panamanian research organization on water security— created a product called BioToth which is a mixture that acts on the waste oils and greases of the sanitary system, with a 90% removal efficiency. It is a kind of bacteria cocktail that manages to digest the fat in the wastewater, and in this way reduces its accumulation.
In Chile, the Advanced Innovation Center (AIC) created the Plasma Water Sanitation System (PWSS) which is a technological innovation that eliminates viruses and bacteria present in raw water through a high-intensity electrical field that transforms water into a plasma state. The system is capable of sanitizing 35 litres of water in five minutes at a cost of less than one cent per liter.
Alfredo Zolezzi, - inventor of the Plasma Water Sanitation System (PWSS).
Governments’ efforts in creating consciousness on the use of water is also relevant. In Ecuador, the Support Center for Rural Drinking Water Management (CENAGRAP in Spanish) is an organization that aims to raise awareness and educate people on the use and exploitation of drinking water and the conservation of water resources with respect for interculturality, collective work, and transparency in dealing with consumers.
In Colombia, a multi-institutional operation between the Municipality of Medellin and operators of transportation and electricity services (the ISA) formulated a megaproject that seeks the recovery of the Medellin river and the Aburra valley. The Parques del Rio project seeks to provide public and environmental space to ensure the recovery of the biotic system in the river. The project includes the construction of a new treatment plant to clean up 95% of the urban wastewater. The project also expects that through proper communication and information dissemination, people living in the surrounding areas will be more aware of their impact on the river.
Model of the Parque del Rio project in Medellin, Colombia.
Enhancing access to clean water and sanitation in Latin America requires adopting a new paradigm that includes a high technological component and, above all, the better use of water resources. The current collaboration between the State, the social innovators, and the academe, is evidence that a consistent improvement in the provision of water and sanitation services for all can be achieved.
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