By Javier Jules, RCN Radio, September 25, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The principal way that the inhabitants of the region obtain water is buying it in tank cars.

University professors have designed a system that, by using solar energy, is capable of converting salt water into potable water. The goal of the project is to benefit the Wayúu families in a rural area of Manaure Municipality in La Guajira Province.

In only three of the fifteen municipalities in La Guajira can the inhabitants obtain potable water service. That finding is part of an analysis by the Housing Ministry in 2019.

Manaure is among the municipalities where the inhabitants have no water system. Lilian De Luque Bruges, an official in the local administration, explains that “in the areas that are close to the edge of the sea, such as Manaure and El Pájaro along kilometer 15, the wells have to be dug really deep in order to reach fresh water, because it almost always comes out salty.”

Around 57 % of the population in Manaure live in the rural areas; those areas are the ones where getting water means “walking for hours to get water, sometimes from home-built wells or diggings and it’s not of good quality and the children get sick from it,” the official added.

Manuel Mejía, Doctor of Mechanical Engineering, is part of a group of five researchers from the Central University who have created a system that, using solar energy, is able to separate the salt from the water and make it potable.

He explains that the technology and the physical principle used “require a large quantity of solar energy so that the results are acceptable. In principle, the arid zones and places near the sea are ideal because, for example, if a community has as its source a deep well with high concentrations of salt and in addition has a climate with temperatures above 30C (86 F.), it could consider installing this system.”

The project, distinguished among other projects from other countries in a contest known as “Engineering for Change,” was able to have this community adopt it as part of its indigenous vision, near to what the Wayúu call their guardians of water. The idea is to be able to build several desalinating systems and distribute them among the houses in Manaure.

Except for the the solar panel that has already been built, the system can be built with items that are very easy to obtain at the hardware store. Once the building process is begun, the next phase is training the families use the system; they should be able to obtain up to 8 liters of potable water every day.

“Everything that has to do with potable water for the Manaure community is essential,” points out De Luque Bruges.

In Colombia, nearly 73% of the rural population have no water system. How fast the idea spreads in the Manaure community, as a pilot project to be replicated in other areas that have difficulty in obtaining potable water, depends on obtaining funds to finance the construction of the desalinating systems.

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