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#BAD10: Water supply and sanitation in Ecuador

Young Ecuadorian girls - Photo by Flickr user 'ximenacab'

This post may be off the topic of this blog, but is presented with intention to participate in the Blog Action Day, Global Voices is promoting today.

First of all, let me very quickly present the South American country. Ecuador is located Southern of Colombia and has a wide extension of frontier with Peru. It was widely mentioned this past September 30, when a group of police members make his president prisoner in one hospital at the Quito's city.

While this country has a average annual precipitation of 1,200 millimeters. The uneven distribution of this rainfall as much as its population, are the main reasons for the problems of the country's water supply. This becomes a very serious problem that couldn't be resolved by any of the governments in turn.

Some areas receive only 250 mm of annual rain, while others receive up to 6,000 mm per year. There are some regions like Zapotillo in the province of Loja, which have any precipitation throughout the year.

One very important reference is that only 10 percent of the total water available in this country is used, and thus, 97 percent is used for irrigation and 3 percent for domestic and industrial purposes.

Although service coverage of healthy water, has increased, much of the service is intermittent in the middle of urban centers. If you ever visited Ecuador, you can verify this assertion as positive. The water pressure is far below the norm, especially in the outer towns of all cities, specially Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.

Water is the main consequence of infant disease. The 30 percent of urban water, so called 'drinking water,' needs treatment to "clean up" superficial waters where it is collected. In rural areas, according to this survey held in 2004, 38 percent of the systems have collapsed and 20 percent are seriously impaired. The 29 percent had lightly impaired and only 13 percent are considered sustainable.

Ecuador does not have clear policies about drinking water and rainfall water utilization. There is not data about ground waters, either. It was the IEOS the institution in charge of water until 1992. After that, it merged with MIDUVI and tried to offer healthy water to its citizen, and managed to analyze and control the 97 percent of water used for irrigation, the main concern of the political guidelines about water in this country.

The actual government has created the National Secretariat of Water and is working along BID, APOSINO and USAID to bring clean water to the domestic use. Evaluation of the organization's system is absent by far.

We are mostly preoccupied about the rural areas. There is a great need for systems for domestic water supply, especially along the coast and in areas battered by drought such as the provinces of Loja, Manabi and El Oro.

The south region in Ecuador is already semi-arid, and more and more it is being characterized as a dessert zone. Before the drought, the water level in an aquifer was 15 to 20 meters deep, but now is at depths of 80 to 100 meters. Many wells can't provide water anymore and it is very expensive to drill large wells in small rural communities.

The main rivers in the province of Loja, the province where Vilcabamba, the Longevity Valley is seated, are considered perennial and communities located far from the streams have serious water supply problems. These remote communities depend on small streams and wells not so deep in the soil. Both have almost dried out since the drought began in this zone.

In the province of Manabi, water must be hauled by truck to a very high cost --- Guayaquil outskirts still have the same problem. --- In addition to the lack of water due to drought in provinces like this one, there are also problems of groundwater quality which contains excess iron naturally present in this water.

Not to even mention that Ecuador has a very poor water treatments system. The 92 percent of sewage is discharged without any treatment and sometimes over the crystal clear water of rivers.

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Milton Ramirez

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