Indigenous Communities from Chocó, Colombia Drink Potable Water for the First Time

Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 29 June 2016

Capacity Building

Some 7,500 members of five Colombian indigenous communities are able to drink potable water for the first time, thanks to collaboration between the Colombian Navy and the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá that assembled 1,250 water filters to help the quality of life of many communities of the Pacific coast of Colombia.

The Colombian Navy’s efforts to aid the indigenous communities across the Pacific coast were led by the 2nd Brigade of the Marine Corps Department of Integrated Action with support from the 24th Marine Corps Fluvial Battalion and a mothership class surface unit from the Surface Fleet of the Pacific Naval Force.

The United States donated the filters through the Office of Strategic Planning and Cooperation Group (J5) of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. Waves for Water (W4W), a U.S. non-profit organization that helps provide clean drinking water to the poorest communities in the world, participated in the activity, said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Alberto Hernández, Deputy Chief of the J5. W4W provides access to clean water through the distribution of portable water filters, the digging and renovating of wells, and the construction of rainwater harvesting and storing systems in places where groundwater is not accessible.

“[It will help counter and prevent forced recruitment of minors in those areas along the San Juan river, which is a very convenient avenue for drug trafficking,” added Lt. Col. Hernández. “With clean water, that child will spend his days at school or in some positive activity.”

Photo: Courtesy of the Naval Force of the Pacific, Colombia

For his part, Colombian Marine Corps Colonel Sarung Chilito Rodríguez, commander of Colombia’s 2nd Marine Corps Brigade, agreed with Lt. Col Hernandez. “The filters will help lower the number of cases of people who become sick due to diseases of gastrointestinal origin due to the consumption of contaminated and non-potable water,” he told Diálogo. “This is a special program we’ve been advancing in the social sphere in alliance with the United States and the group of Integrated Action of the Colombian Navy, all of whom have been making a very big effort across the entire Pacific coast of Colombia, beginning with bringing the U.S. Navy’s floating hospital, the USNS Comfort, to the area as part of the Continuing Promise initiative,” Lt. Col. Rodríguez said.

Continuing Promise is an initiative under the auspices of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) that provides humanitarian assistance and conducts joint civilian and military operations with partner nations in the Caribbean and Central and South America. During the 2015 mission, the hospital ship was anchored off the port of Buenaventura for ten days in which close to 10,800 locals benefited from the many free medical services offered.

In order to follow up with the “Continuing Promise” initiated then, the J5 organized the water filter project to provide access to drinking water to the local populations. They partnered with Waves for Water, whose personnel trained a Colombian Navy working group to carry out proper install and use of the filters on the premises of 24th Fluvial Battalion in Buenaventura

After learning to do it themselves, members of the Colombian Navy spent three days assembling the filters and training the recipients how to operate the water purifiers in the indigenous municipalities of Unión Balsalito, Docordó, Aguas Claras, Buenavista, Las Palmas, and Tiosilidio, located along the banks of the San Juan River.

Each filter is expected to last four years and is easy to use: the user simply fills a bucket with water and turns on the filter to purify the water. According to Col. Rodríguez, the 2nd Brigade, along with indigenous leaders and local authorities, is working on an action plan to develop permanent potable water purification systems in these communities. Each indigenous leader will make sure the filters are used correctly and for the agreed-upon purposes. “Through the development of integrated action activities in these communities, the tactical units of the Marine Corps 2nd Brigade will carry out visits and provide consulting to the indigenous with regard to any possible problems that could arise,” Col. Rodríguez said.

Cooperation among partner nations

Photos: Courtesy of the Naval Force of the Pacific, Colombia

Some of the initiatives undertaken by the 2nd Brigade with the assistance of the Colombian Navy include connecting indigenous communities in hard-to-access zones with health taskforces and developing infrastructure projects supported by the private sector. “The United States is our ally in a variety of strategic humanitarian-aid actions we’ve taken in the central, southern, and northern parts of the Colombian Pacific. We plan to bring the filters to all these communities so they can enjoy the benefits of having potable water,” Col. Chilito said. He highlighted the fact that the Colombian Navy has made it a priority to safeguard the well-being of the most vulnerable and needy populations of the Colombian Pacific region. “What we do is help contribute to the rebuilding of the social fabric and bolster national development through plans and programs that help lower the extreme poverty indexes, basic unsanitary conditions, and illiteracy in these indigenous communities,” Col. Chilito said.

The Colombian Military Forces are bringing positive change to the country, especially in remote areas that have suffered the effects of illegal armed groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “Colombia is designing its post-conflict models and how to face the country’s new political phase. The fact is that Colombia can’t leave empty spaces that the [illegal] armed groups can take advantage of; the State must be present [in these areas], so, the help offered by the U.S. Government, SOUTHCOM, and all other elements of social humanitarian aid investments are essential in building this new country,” said Néstor Alfonso Rosanía, from the Center for Security and Peace Studies in Colombia.


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