South America, water projects

Colombia And Waste Water Management

0 Comments 26 October 2010

Colombia And Waste Water Management

Colombia’s water and waste water management problems are costing the lives of civilians every year. In Colombia, 2,300 deaths per year result from water, sanitation, and hygiene related issues. This number accounts for 70 percent of deaths attributable to environmental conditions within the country.

Dr. Teofilo Montiero is the Environmental Health and Sustainable Development Advisor of the Pan American Health Organization in Bogota, Colombia. In a telephone interview, Montiero discussed the waste water management issues in Colombia and suggested a targeted action plan to address the nation’s water issue.

The Indigenous and Afro-Colombians are the most vulnerable groups impacted by lack of water in Colombia. These communities, along with other Pacific coast residents, live far away from Colombia’s municipalities like Bogota and Medellin.  Hence, their water resources are at best limited, and at the worst non-existent.

“Some of these people don’t even have running water or flush toilets” said Montiero. As a consequence, these historically marginalized and displaced groups, face public health risks such as bacterial diarrhea.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a list of eight goals set in 2000 by the United Nations and agreed upon by world leaders. UN member states aim to achieve these goals by 2015. Initiatives include reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The former goals are contingent upon effective water management systems.

 “Overall, Colombia will achieve the MDGs. But in specific areas where indigenous and Afro-Colombians live, there will still be a problem locally” asserted Montiero.

Waste water management has taken a toll on both the local and national level in Colombia. Isolated communities function without access to water resources and hydroelectric power was compromised because of untreated solid waste in the water. Hydroelectric power is a major source of energy in the country. The contamination level of the Bogota River was once so critical that the production of energy was interrupted.

President Juan Manuel Santos spoke in Cali, Colombia earlier this month on environmental and water concerns. The President noted that Colombia has, “immense water reservoirs but they are managed very badly.” Santos proposed that a Ministry of the Environment, independent of other ministries, be instituted.

Currently, the Ministry of the Environment, Housing, Water, and Local Development serves as an umbrella for individual public works programs. The Vice Ministry of Water is a smaller organ of an overarching ministry which oversees policy and programs related to the environment, housing, water and local development.  

Private sector companies are involved in the waste water management problem that Colombia faces. Clearford Industries Inc. is a Canadian-based global waste water management company. Clearford Industries Inc. finalized agreements in September of this year to use their technology in the Valle de Cauca region of Colombia. In San Pedro and Cerrito, where Clearford Industries Inc. will render their services, 25,000 people still live without sewage systems.

In a telephone interview, Bruce Linton of Clearford Industries Inc. described the company’s involvement in San Pedro and Cerrito. “There is a basic governmental sanitation program in Colombia which grants a quarter of a million dollars per 3,000 people if a waste water management program is implemented.

Clearford Industries Inc. will apply their technology and employ local labor to complete the project. When asked if fair wages would be provided, Linton answered, “There is a corporate policy approved by the Board which stipulates that employment practices must be held to the Canadian law standard. Meaning, if it isn’t legal in Canada, it isn’t legal wherever Clearford operates.”

Colombia has made progress with sanitation and water concerns over the past ten years but there is a need for sustainable development practices and infrastructure to support their programs. A concerted effort to provide communities with access to running water and sanitation systems in the 21st century is imperative.

For Colombia, water affects health, sanitation, energy and their lush tropical lands. Colombia is known for its biodiversity. More than 3,000 species of wildlife, plants and fauna are native to the South American paradise  and depend upon appropriate water resources for survival.

The country has the capacity and technological advancements necessary to meet the MDGs at the local, regional and national level by 2015. An integrated response to Colombia’s water program requires a collaborative response from the government, as well as public and private sectors. 

If successful, the restructuring of Colombia’s water program could serve as a model for other countries with similar waste water concerns.

The photo of indigenous Colombians above is a UN photo taken by Mark Garten.

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