Filters improve water quality in Pisco

By Maribel Sanchez

Dina Huarcaya and thousands of people like her in Pisco, Peru, have been struggling to find enough clean water for their families since August's major earthquake damaged local water supply systems.

"We get water from this ditch, which is a very dirty and murky channel, where garbage is dumped and even dead animals have been found," says Huarcaya, who lives in the town of Huaya Chica. But now, with the help of Oxfam, many families in Huarcaya's town have clean water to drink—thanks to the distribution of water filters and the training in how to use them. So far, the organization has provided 870 water filters in the districts of Humay and Independencia. The goal is to improve significantly the quality of the local drinking water, which often comes from unsafe sources.

Not only did the quake obstruct canals and collapse water treatment and distribution facilities, it also revealed how poor the water quality was in some areas of the countryside. Before the quake, many families had to buy water from tanker trucks or draw it from wells and irrigation ditches. In all these cases the water was unhealthy. The earthquake worsened this situation by increasing the risk of disease.

With the filters Oxfam has been distributing, people are able to remove impurities and sediments. Water that was initially murky, contaminated, and unfit for human consumption becomes clean and free from harmful micro-organisms.

"We get home tired after doing agricultural work (cotton cultivation) and now we have clean water without having to boil it first," observes Delia Mendoza Suárez, a 50-year-old mother of seven children in the village of Palto. Paltoand six other villages now have clean water for drinking and cooking.

Oxfam has been distributing water from tanker trucks in districts where the population does not have sources from which to draw water. The agency is working in coordination with other institutions, such as United Firemen Without Borders (Spain), Pompiers Sans Frontières (France), and Action Against Hunger (Spain). Oxfam has successfully put into service three water treatment plants and has installed 45 water distribution points, including tanks (of 600 and 1,100 liters) and water storage bladders (of 1,500, 3,500, and 6,000 liters), making available an average of 20 liters of water per person per day in each village within the districts of Humay and Independencia.

Health education

"Children and adults get stomach illnesses because the water is not clean. After the earthquake, the situation had worsened since there was no water. Now we have it again but it continues to be dirty," said Amalia Valdiviezo Meza, whose family now drinks filtered water.

To help address the ongoing problems, Oxfam is also coordinating a public health campaign through the local press. It's helping to spread information on the proper use of water, latrines, and hygiene to avoid the spread of disease.

"A month after the earthquake, the health risks keep increasing and we must not lower our guard. On the contrary, we will double our efforts to promote hygiene and good health," says Mónica Ramos, Oxfam's public health promoter in Pisco.

As part of that effort, Oxfam has distributed 1,650 hygiene kits, which include soap, shampoo, brushes, and towels, among other items. To achieve a more complete response, latrines and accompanying sinks for washing are also being installed.

Helping Oxfam to achieve its goals have been members of "Jovos," or Young Volunteers for Disaster Prevention, who came from Moquegua, in southern Peru. Assistance has also come from members of the "Grufides" group who have been helping with the installation of tents and temporary shelters as well as with the promotion of public health through talks on hygiene and the proper use and maintenance of water filters.

Maribel Sanchez is the communications officer for Oxfam International in Pisco, Peru.

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