ECUADOR:Water:a basic human right

Sebatstiao SalgadoThe other day I had an epiphany as I was going to visit a professor. I was behind on a project, and needed to know what I could do to be able to get it finished on time. One detail worth sharing is that this professor's office is one the fourth floor of the building, and out of habit I took the stairs. After the ascent, I noticed that I was a bit winded and wished that I didn't have to carry my books and laptop around everywhere. We talked for about half an hour. Good items were discussed, and I was ready to get to work. Walking back down the hall my mouth was dry and so I stopped at the wonderful silver station at the end of the corridor. There I pushed a long gray button and out sprayed wonderfully cool, clean water. A little drink was all I needed to wet my mouth and throat, and then I was ready for the stairs again. Then it hit me just how privileged we are; how I have taken advantage of the idea that there are drinking fountains everywhere on campus, in the work place, in the schools, and even in the church buildings. Any time that I'm thirsty, I don't have to wonder very far to find an amazing silver station that magically spouts water on command. There really are only a few places in the world where this phenomenon exists. What about the countries where it doesn't exist? What about all the people that drink from ditch water, or simply can't find any water to drink? How don't they have access to water and what can be done? That is what I will discuss here: how improvements in water treatment help relieve the burden of urbanization on the population.



As are the circumstances in many parts of the world, the rural area in Ecuador suffers from a lack of sources of suitable drinking water. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to not be able to find clean water to drink, and these people deal with it every day. One of the common water sources in rural areas is irrigation ponds. These ponds of standing water collect as the water runs off the crop fields and as a result are not very clean. In such ponds there is a high concentration of microorganisms and also sediment. What are the results of drinking this type of water? There is logic to the council given to travelers to not drink the water. It can cause many health problems including diarrheic diseases. Personally I don't like to talk about diarrhea, but it is something that happens to people every day. It is very uncomfortable, but it only lasts a day or two, well, at least for us. Before researching this topic I had never heard of anyone dying of diarrhea, but this illness causes many of the deaths of children under the age of five. 6000 children die every day because of dehydration caused by diarhea. Ecuador and its neighboring countries have a very high infant mortality rate, around 20%. This is unfathomable to me. I come from a family of nine children, so if we fit into that statistic, which would mean that I would not have two of my brothers and sisters. If I had to choose two to give up of them, which ones would I chose? I couldn't do it. Imagine your families and friends, could you do it?bacteria build-up on filters

So, what is being done to provide people in the rural area with the life-saving, drinkable water? One group that has set out to help provide potable water in the rural area of Pucará in the providence of Azuay, Ecuador is called AQUAPOT international based out of the Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Department of the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain. They are using water treatment facilities that use ultrafiltration membranes. Since 1996 they have researched and developed this low cost, easy to use, and effective technology, but have discovered that maintenance was has not been sufficient to keep the filters from becoming fouled, or having so much microorganisms build up that the permeability (or flow rate of water through the filter) becomes impaired, not allowing water to pass through. AQUAPOT international is currently researching how to effectively maintain the filters clean of biofilm.

As these water treatment facilities are not yet wide spread, there are still many Ecuadorians that try to escape the health problems that come from not having adicuate water, as well as other socio-economic problems such as finding employment, by migrating to the larger cities. The city of Guayaquil has grown as more migrate and is quite the turist atraction for Ecuador. Guayaquil also serves as the largest pasific port in all of South America, which means lots of jobs, right?But may find that their hopes were in vain. On a A shanty town in Guayaquilturist information web page I found the statement: "For safety reason visitors to Guayaquil should plan organized tours of the city rather or take taxis between locations rather than wandering as it is not difficult to find yourself in a 'bad neighborhood' without being aware." Many of the migrants find themselves living in shanty towns in which health conditions are poor. Even in these urban areas there is a shortage of drinkable water. In Guayaquil only about 36% of the people have access to piped drinking water. There is work being done to try and prevent the spread of water pollution caused by urbanization. Such methods include monitoring the waste waters, municipal sewage (where it exists), and agricultural runoff. The runoff is important because the application of manure to fields has been shown to inroduce chemical pollutates that are very harmful to living things. Children using SODIS

Solutions are available, but it is still in question if they are economically viable. One technology that is being investigated for use in developing countries relies upon solar radiation to destroy pathogenic microorganisms (called SODIS). To do this the water is placed in transperant plastic bottles and exposed to 6 hours of full sun light. The process will go quicker if the water reaches a temperature above 50 degrees Celsius. Field studies in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, and Colombia showed that the use of SODIS reduced up to 80% of the cases of diarrhea where used. This would work very well in Ecuador; it is cheap, and the climate is apropriate for the process. There are down sides such as dependance on loud cover and rainfall, but it is some where to start.

Government Health

Works Cited

Adriaens, Peter, et al. "Intelligent Infrastructure for Sustainable Potable Water: A Roundtable for Emerging Transnational Research and Technology Development Needs." Biotechnology Advances, 22.1-2 (2003): 119-34.

Arnal, J. M., et al. "AQUAPOT: Study of several Cleaning Solutions to Recover Permeate Flow in a Humanitarian Drinking Water Treatment Facility Based on Spiral Wound UF Membrane. Preliminary Test (I)." Desalination, 221.1-3 (2008): 331-7.