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Putting rainwater to good use

A regional initiative benefits communities across Latin America and the Caribbean

Photo: ©FAO
Collecting water at a new cistern that stores and purifies rainwater (Bolivia).

30 August 2017, Rome - As the international community gathers this week in Stockholm for World Water Week, we profile a cooperative effort by FAO and the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation to make water more accessible to vulnerable and water-scarce rural communities in a number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  

The Mesoamerica Hunger-Free programme helps these communities to harvest rainwater and put it to good use as a source of safe, drinkable water and for irrigation during times of drought. The initiative is active in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama.

FAO also supports communities in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic to make use of rainwater as part of a different initiative.

“Before my mum could only buy two bottles of water for the whole family. We didn’t have enough water. Things are much better now at our house, and at school,” Solangelie, student at El Esfuerzo school, where rainwater is turned into drinkable water. (San Andres, Colombia). ©FAO/Clara Vargas

Focus on Colombia

In Colombia, FAO is working to turn rainwater into safe, drinkable water for schoolchildren on San Andres Island – a Colombian island in the Caribbean Sea - and for vulnerable indigenous communities in the Amazonas region, in the south of mainland Colombia.

More than 1,800 people, including school children and some 600 indigenous community members in Amazonas will benefit.

Recent surveys in the Amazonas found that 88 percent of the families were collecting rainwater in precarious conditions and drinking it without purifying it first. This has led to many children falling ill.

Thanks to the new system, rainwater is collected and stored in cisterns made of concrete. The water is then pumped to a tank and chlorinated through several filters. The purified water is then ready to be bottled and supplied to the communities.

The water system is built with the community members and can be easily replicated in other areas.

"With minimal economic investment, we can guarantee access to safe drinking water and improve the quality of life of vulnerable communities. Access to water is a human right,” said Marcos Rodríguez, Coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger-Free programme in Colombia.

With the water treatment plant installed in “El Esfuerzo” school on San Andres Island children have access to safe water, and their families can buy the water at a fraction of the price they had to pay before; the water costs almost 10 times less. Safe water can be scarce on San Andres and the price of bottled water is high.

Children have access to safe water at “El Esfuerzo” school, San Andres Island (Colombia). ©FAO/Clara Vargas

FAO at World Water Week 

Each year, the annual World Water Week event brings policy makers and experts from around the globe together to discuss pressing issues related to water and its management. The week’s theme this year is: “water and waste: reduce and reuse”.

From Stockholm, FAO and International Water Management Institute (IWMI) released initial findings from a major review of the latest science on global water pollution from a food and agricultural perspective.

Agriculture, which accounts for 70 percent of water withdrawals worldwide, plays a major role in water pollution. Farms discharge large quantities of agrochemicals, organic matter, drug residues, sediments and saline drainage into water bodies. 

Diagnosis, prediction and monitoring are key requirements for the management of agricultural practices that mitigate these harmful impacts on water resources, according to the Executive summary of Water Pollution from Agriculture: A Global Review. The document -- a precursor the full report next coming out next year -- highlights that water pollution is an increasing global concern that damages economic growth and the health of billions of people.

According to FAO and IWMI, exploding demand for food with high environmental footprints is contributing to unsustainable agricultural intensification and to water-quality degradation.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges the importance of water quality and includes a specific water quality target.

See here for more information on FAO’s activities during World Water Week.

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