We’re so excited that our pilot project is located in Candelaria, Colombia!
Candelaria is a small, close knit community made up of 146 families, and 730 people. It is located in the north of Colombia, about 7 miles inland from the Caribbean coast, and is surrounded by rolling hills, open plains, and tropical wetlands. The people of this community are mainly subsistence farmers, growing the food they need, and a little to sell.
Candalaria has a tropical climate, with an average temperature of 82 degrees (27.7 C). Normally the rainfall in the area is 47 inches (1200 mm) per year divided into two periods: 95% of the precipitation falls during the rainy season (April to November), and the other 5% during the dry period (December to March).
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Issues in Candelaria
For almost everyone in Candelaria, rainwater is the main source of water. During the wet season people harvest rainwater from their roofs, and it also collects in natural depressions in the land. Once the wet season is over, the water stored in these natural depressions is their sole source of water.
In the past, rain was sufficient to provide everyone with enough water throughout the year. However, over the last decade there have been a couple of changes that have impacted the area. The first is climate change, which has resulted in the rains being less dependable than in the past. Some years get a lot of rain, while others fall far below normal. However, even a normal amount of rain is no longer sufficient because of another change in the region.
Cattle ranching has moved into the area, and with cattle ranching comes deforestation. Most of the trees in the area have now been removed and replaced with open plains, leading to several problems. The largest, and what we’re most concerned about, is that trees help the soil to retain rainwater. When there are trees the soil acts like a sponge, soaking up the water, which then slowly moves through the soil, feeding streams and rivers throughout the year. However, when all of the trees are removed from a landscape the water runs over the ground, into rivers and streams, and then is gone very quickly. So instead of having a reliable source all year, the community only has it for part of the year. The loss of trees also has lead to desertification of the area, and soil loss, further exacerbating the problem.
The water that is collected from the various sources is of poor quality, and frequently leaves people in the community sick with gastrointestinal problems. Most of the water they drink during the dry season is collected from natural depressions in the land. This water is used by humans and animals alike, with cows and horses using it to bathe in and drink, and inevitably, go to the bathroom in.
Unfortunately, the information available on groundwater in the area shows that it is too saline to be used for drinking water. This makes sense because Candelaria is so close to the coast, and, because of the deforestation there isn’t very much fresh water (rain) percolating into the ground to offset the saline water. But, to every problem there is a solution, and in this case solar desalination may be the answer. This is one option we’ll be looking at as the project progresses.
Candelaria has a very severe sanitation problem; around 50% of the population go to the bathroom out in the open. This has many health implications, and could be attributing to the poor quality of the water in the vicinity of Candelaria. We plan to make this a thing of the past by educating the community on the importance of good sanitation practices, and then helping them to build latrines for the community. Since this is a farming community we think composting toilets would be a great fit, and we plan to propose this solution to the community.
We’re happy to be working with a great local partner on this project, the Association of Fishermen, Peasants, Indigenous and Afro-descendants for the Community Development of the Great Swamp of the Lower Sinú. Quite a mouth full, but in spanish the name can be shortened to the acronym ASPROCIG. This association has been working to help people in Colombia since 1998, and includes 96 community based organizations.
Their work in water and sanitation aims to incorporate ancient knowledge and ensure the management of services by the users themselves. Some of their main initiatives include linking scattered rural communities to one clean water source that can serve them all, community water systems with decentralized water treatment systems powered by solar energy, distribution of home filters, community cisterns that utilize rainwater harvesting, and currently they are piloting a solar powered system that uses wastewater for irrigation. On the sanitation side, they work with communities to safely and sustainably convert their waste into compost, which is then either used within the community on their crops, or is sold.
We’re very excited to be working with ASPROCIG! Their years of experience in the region will be critical to the success of this project, and we are looking forward to the partnership ahead.
If you’d like to read more about ASPROCIG click HERE.
In the Spring our founder, Brian Luenow, was able to travel to Colombia to meet everyone at our partner organization, ASPROCIG, as well as the community in Candelaria Arriba. It was a great trip, and we came out of it with a better idea of what the most pressing issues were for the community.
While taking a tour of the elementary school Brian learned that a couple of years ago the Colombian government had installed a water storage tank and a pump at the school, but never finished the project. They were supposed to connect the tank to a rainwater harvesting system so the school could take advantage of the abundance of rain from April to December, but this never happened. Therefore, the children who go to this school do so without a reliable source of water, and any water they do have is not fit to drink.
Countless studies have shown that a lack of clean water at school negatively impacts the education of the students, especially girls. Knowing this, Brian decided that this would be one of the first projects completed. This fall we were able to give the green light to our partners in Colombia to finally complete this project! This work is currently underway, and should be finished soon.
Brian was also able to visit one of the main sources of water for the community during the dry season, which is a natural depression that fills with water during the rainy season. This reservoir is used by people and animals alike, with cows and horses using it for drinking, bathing, and as a toilet. Within the community there are a couple of people that could afford to buy a filter, but in general, people in Candelaria Arriba drink this water as it is.
It goes without saying that these people desperately need a way to filter their water. That’s why this Fall we’re raising money to provide every household, and the school, with locally made ceramic water filters that will provide them with clean water for years to come. We have raised most of what we need for this project, and we’re currently raising money to cover the remaining cost.
After both of these projects are completed we’re going to keep moving right along in Candelaria Arriba. There are three items that we would like to complete in the next year. First, we would like to see a bathroom at every house. When in Colombia, Brian saw that more houses in Candelaria Arriba had bathrooms then he expected, approximately 50%, but that still leaves a lot that don’t. Those that don’t have one have to go to the bathroom out in the open. This is not only unhealthy and dangerous for these people, but also for the entire community which could potentially be introduced to diseases from the waste.
We’d also like to replace the pump at the school with a solar water pump. Electricity is prohibitively expensive in Candelaria Arriba, and now that they’re going to have a tank full of water we want the students to be able to use it whenever they want. Additionally, we’re going to monitor how much water is used by the school, and then decide if they require an additional storage tank in order to have enough water to last through the dry season.
Finally, one of the biggest complaints Brian heard when he was there was regarding the amount of time people spend collecting water, and how much easier life would be if they had running water at home. To that end, we plan to start designing a water distribution system that will bring water to every house in the community. This will be a very big project, and will take a lot of planning and support, but in the end will have a huge impact on the lives of the people, and on the future of the community.
We’re so happy to be working with the community in Candelaria Arriba, and can’t wait to continue to work there! If you’d like to stay updated with our work please scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up for updates. Thanks!