US, Colombian Service Members Lead Potable Water Project

The humanitarian operation benefited the indigenous Wayuu community that experienced water shortages in the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Myriam Ortega/Diálogo | 14 November 2018

Capacity Building

Units of the U.S. Navy and the Colombian Army led a cooperation project to build a potable water well for the indigenous Wayuu community of La Guajira department, Colombia. (Photo: Colombian Army)

In early October, units of the U.S. Navy and the Colombian Army completed a combined water well project in the outskirts of Riohacha, La Guajira department, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The Rumonero project, named after the village where the water exploration work took place, sought to increase the community’s water supply.

The project lasted more than a month and consisted of ground exploration, planning, and drilling of a well about 250 meters deep. The activities, under U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-sponsored humanitarian mission Southern Partnership Station (SPS) took place, August 28th–October 3rd. U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet carried out SPS 18, engaging in knowledge exchange and strengthening the capabilities of Latin American countries between July and October.

“We choose these kinds of projects based on local needs,” U.S. Navy Captain Brian J. Diebold, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 40, which led SPS 18, told Diálogo. “They align with SOUTHCOM’s principles of promoting regional stability while advancing shared interests in the region.” 

Fresh water

Military personnel unloaded tons of construction material and special equipment for well drilling from the U.S. Navy’s USS Gunston Hall in the port city of Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, to transport it to Riohacha. About 40 service members assigned to U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 (NMCB-133) focused their efforts on executing the project. The Colombian Army managed onsite security, providing 100 troops under the government’s unified action concept of the Victoria Plus Plan, the strategic planning umbrella of the Colombian Military Forces.

“Once NMCB-133 was onsite, its members started drilling to find fresh water,” said Capt. Diebold. “This shows the commitment [of the United States] to the security and stability of the region.”

In Colombia, the Military Forces General Command, the ministries of the Interior and Urban Planning and Territory, as well as La Guajira’s local government, coordinated the project. “[These] institutions identified the critical situation due to the lack of potable water in La Guajira department,” Brigadier General Hugo Alejandro López Barreto, commander of the Colombian Army’s Comprehensive Action and Development Support Command, told Diálogo.

Before the water well was built, people in the desert region of La Guajira had to travel nearly six hours to get 3 liters of water. (Photo: Myriam Ortega)

Thousands of inhabitants in the region characterized by deserts and sand dunes, hamlets, and fishing villages of the indigenous Wayuu community, benefited from the project. The region has been through a period of drought for nearly a decade, which worsened in the last three years.

“The population is scattered, with more than 5,000 settlements spread over 1,090,000 hectares, creating a set of challenges for the government and the country,” said Brig. Gen. López. “Travel time for a family to access potable water in some communities is two to six hours, and the supply is minimal; we’re talking about 3 liters of water per person, which isn’t enough.”

A successful project

In addition to leading humanitarian projects in the region, SPS 18 conducted subject matter expert exchanges in different specialties, such as exchanging knowledge about preventive medicine during the deployment in Riohacha. The exchange among health units of the U.S. Navy and traditional doctors of the Cucurumana, El Paraíso, and Tocoramana communities in La Guajira enabled information exchanges with indigenous leaders for 17 days.

“There was an exchange of knowledge from both sides,” Brig. Gen. López said. “In this whole exercise, we were able to alleviate health conditions of many children and communities during this month and a half.”

The Rumonero project was a success at the local level, covering a basic need in the region and favoring socioeconomic development in the area. The combined operation between U.S. and Colombian service members also strengthened bonds of friendship and interoperability.

“The Colombian Army provided security and was essential to the success of this project,” Capt. Diebold said. “The collaboration between the U.S. Navy and the Colombian Armed Forces is based on mutual respect, and we work together with our [Colombian] friends to promote security and regional stability.”

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