“What are the most significant problems facing El Salvador today?” I asked ‘Chungo’, the nickname of a fifty one year old representative of Ciudad Romero? His response was: 1) clean water, 2) electricity and 3) paved roads.
When visiting a clinic in the village of Isla de Mendez, I asked the resident doctor what single project he would elect to improve the health status of his patients, he stated “Clean water for the residents to drink.”
In El Salvador, like most other developing nations, their most pressing need is that for clean water. CNN reports that over 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water in the world. The NGO Global Water claims that over 40,000 people die each day from diseases directly related to drinking polluted water.
Fortunately, El Salvador has very good access to water. Rivers are abundant; the water level in the Bajo Lempa region I visited was only about 10-15 feet below the ground. Access to clean water, however, is another story. Many residents were ill with parasitic infections and a fellow volunteer received a rash after wading into a polluted bay on the Pacific coast.
Since El Salvador is not water poor, the solution to its health problem is simply to clean the water which already exists. In the largest city, San Salvador, water is provided by the government in a centralized manner, much as it is in the United States. The small village of Ciudad Romero employed wells from which its residents received running water.
In other rural areas, however, centralized water provision may be too costly to justify for areas which are not densely populated. There were two solutions the villagers used: chlorine tablets or individual filtration systems. The clinic I visited gave chlorine tablets to some residents without clean water, but I was not able to discern if these were free. Most residents resisted using the tablets since they claimed that the water tasted bad. Fifty five of about 350 families in Isla de Mendez had a filtration system in which bath and laundry water passed through different stone basins, with each basin filtering out a different kind of impurity. In the last stage of the treatment, the water passed through stone filters. The system seemed to be working well, but the local NGO had to educate the population on its use since the device had to be cleaned every three days. Without the education component, the funds invested in the filtration system could have gone down the drain.