Water runs in the Miramar neighborhood in Colombia

July 5, 2011

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Water runs in the Miramar neighborhood in Colombia Aurelie Baumel/MSF

In the port city of Buenaventura, 250 houses built on piles in the Miramar neighborhood, lacked running water because the water company, Hidropacífico, was not prepared to deliver water via an above-ground distribution system. With the high level of skin infections and gastric disease related to poor quality water, in late 2009 MSF decided to launch a water and sanitation project.

In 14 months, MSF held 17 training sessions and, working with the Miramar community, rebuilt 725 meters of ‘water bridges’ and installed 200 kits. Now, every house has a tank that provides water around the clock.

Pilot project

Miramar was founded 17 years ago by a group of families who had been expelled from their land on the outskirts of the city and from neighboring districts. Today, most of the constructions in the district are moving towards the sea, perched on piles. Unauthorized connections to the municipal system provided access to water for a few hours each week, but the lack of clean water has resulted in substandard hygiene and a proliferation of skin infections and gastric diseases among children.

Given those conditions, MSF decided to set up a water sanitation and distribution project. To ensure that the project would succeed over the long term, the teams encouraged community participation.

"The community's involvement in building the project gives everyone a stake in maintaining the equipment and managing their own water use," said David Clerc, MSF's project manager in Miramar. "That way, the facilities that have been set up will last longer."

Radical change

The idea of restoring all the neighborhood's pontoons grew out of the need to anchor the pipes to a stable support.

"The goal of the project was to reduce morbidity from waterborne diseases and improve living conditions by installing a water delivery system," explained water and sanitation manager Juan Carlos Torres. "In the end, the project surpassed that goal and created greater social cohesion, thanks to the pontoon repair."

After checking the joints and disinfecting the pipes, water finally began running to the neighborhood in late April 2010.

"It's a complete change," said Jay, a resident of the barrio. "We used to have to go a long way to get water, carrying our jerry cans. Now all you have to do is turn on the tap!"

The project is a success for both the teams and the community. MSF will thus duplicate this experience in two more of the city's barrios, adapting the method of operation to the specific characteristics of each.

 

MSF has been working in Colombia since 1995, with current projects in the port city of Buenaventura, located on the Pacific coast. The city's 400,000 residents, 98% of whom are Afro-Colombian, experience urban and intra-family violence on a daily basis. In 2008, MSF opened a primary health care center for residents without health coverage, for emergencies and for victims of sexual violence.

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