Our Pilot Project: 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 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. The community is supplied with river water from an aqueduct, some harvest water from their roofs, others gather it from ponds formed in natural depressions, or collect it from the few small reservoirs in the area.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 the rivers, 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. At this time we haven't had a chance to test the water in order to determine what exactly is making people in the community sick, but testing will be done in the coming months. Once the testing is done we will be looking into what options there are for treating the water.
Also, up to this point 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; 95% 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.
The Next Steps
We’re so excited to get started with our first project! Over the next couple of months we will be working in the community to gather more information that will be helpful in creating a solution. This will include mapping of the community, as well as conducting interviews with community members. Both of these activities will give us a better idea of who the people of Candelaria are, how their situation is impacting their lives, their level of awareness about the importance of clean water and proper sanitation, and what their hopes are for the future of Candelaria.
We will also begin to raise funds for the project, and you know what they say; there’s no time like the present! So if you are able to donate something please click on the “Donate to HydrateLife” button at the top of the page. 100% of all donations will be going directly to this project.
Finally, we want to thank everyone who has been following HydrateLife up to this point! Several years ago the idea of HydrateLife as a nonprofit, working with real people, on real projects, was only a dream for our Founder, Brian Luenow. Now, we begin a great journey to help communities throughout Latin America to be healthy, happy, and prosperous, and we start this journey in Candelaria.