Managing Water & Fighting Mosquitoes in Colombia

4 May 2021

Each country’s distinctive economic, cultural, societal and political factors shape the way water resources are used and managed. In Colombia, these factors influence the use and management of water storage near homes that are prone to the reproduction of mosquito-borne diseases. These homes are located in neighbourhoods vulnerable to climate change in the cities of Barranquilla and Buenaventura. 

Here, we tell the story of the project, Managing water, Fighting Mosquitoes: Climate Change, Gender, and Equity in Access to Water in Peri-urban Colombia, based on data collected from the project’s annual report. It is also based on statements by Dr. Tatiana Acevedo Guerrero, representing IHE Delft as a project partner, and on an interview with Dr. Clara Roa-Garcia, Senior Researcher at Fundacion Evaristo Garcia and the project leader.

Understanding how women, water and mosquitoes are connected

The DUPC2-funded project Managing water, Fighting Mosquitoes: Climate Change, Gender, and Equity in Access to Water in Peri-urban Colombia, establishes its work based on the experiences of women who were affected by diseases. The goal is to adopt a gender approach to understand the relationship between women, mosquitoes and water. 

Dr. Tatiana Acevedo Guerrero explains that the main research question delves into the ways in which rapid urbanization in the context of armed conflict, infrastructural inequality, the absence of formal jobs, and specific water laws and regulations, produce water and mosquitoes in the cities of Barranquilla, in the country’s Caribbean coast, and Buenaventura, in the Pacific coast. 

To answer this question, partners work on a number of themes including:

  • Water governance, in which females are offered capacity building training to better manage water resources or infrastructure.  
  • Gender and inclusiveness, where women’s role is positioned as primary and are envisioned as pioneers in solving water related issues in the community. 
  • Climate Change as a global issue and the implications it has on the planet. The two cities in Colombia are badly affected by climate change.

The experiences of women who have been exposed to diseases at hand (Zika, Dengue and chikungunya), are key variables in this research, and therefore it adopts a gender approach to understanding the relationships between women, water and mosquitoes.

The project launched officially in March 2020, but activities started in May 2020, due to delays associated with the Covid-19 outbreak. It is organised as a comparative analysis of the two cities where local partners play a key role in contextualizing, data collection, analysis and dissemination of results. 

Due to the pandemic, partners in Buenaventura decided to incorporate the use of cell phones by female community members in the city, while in Barranquilla, we decided that it is more feasible to do the same but with students. As time moved on, the Buenaventura Committee for the Defence of Water and Life selected certain neighbourhoods in the city, while also selecting women that showed willingness and had time to participate in filming and photographing their water storages. Finally, professor Alejandro Camargo from La Universidad de la Norte contacted Communications students in Barranquilla to take on these tasks’
Dr. Clara Roa-García, Senior Researcher at the Fundacion Evaristo Garcia
About the initiation of the project

WATER DIARIES

Water diaries are journals where these researchers document/describe/draw/record/photograph in detail their experiences with water/water storage and mosquitoes. 22 female community members in the neighbourhoods - with which Colombian partners collaborate as researchers in the elaboration of Water Diaries - were invited.

In the context of the pandemic, researchers also documented their experiences and imaginings concerning the Covid-19 epidemic, in the midst of water insecurity and lockdowns. Researchers worked on the diaries for two months on a daily basis. The work was safe in a time of social distancing and lockdowns since it didn’t entail leaving the house, as it was about documenting everyday life inside the household. All meetings were held online, through pre-installed apps on their smartphones. The diaries were uploaded daily onto the project’s online cloud storage.

Dr. Roa- Garcia further explains: ‘’We contacted telecom companies and bought mobile phones and got plans with unlimited data to better equip our female researchers’’.

She continues: ‘‘Then, online training commenced and took about 1 week and 3 days, for which we designed a booklet that explains the use of cell phones for this project, established the concept of water diaries, and told them what was expected to be done. After sending these booklets and holding the training, the women researchers understood the concepts quite well.’’ 

On the support offered to researchers in relation to the booklet: ‘’two persons from the Andes University specialised in the techniques of using cellphones in order to make clear photos and videos. The two specialists also explained the ethics of photographing and video making in which, for instance, the use or taking pictures of children is unethical’’.

The role of the Andes University was to support the platform of the Water Diaries by storing and disseminating videos, pictures, and materials on a daily basis. Furthermore, partners hired two coordinators in each city, who were also students and ethnographers, while one was a sociologist. Their main tasks were organising and categorising information collected in both cities, which was useful for researchers, since it provided thematic categories.’’

How women receive and store their water

Dr. Roa Garcia takes us through the daily tasks of female community members who were selected to document water storage. She says: ‘‘Their daily tasks for two months entailed observing where they live, showcasing their surroundings, and sharing their perspectives on how water is provided to them or stored, plus highlighting their experiences and how they were dealing with water and with conflicts with their neighbours. This bore in mind the fact that it all coincided with the start of the pandemic, and therefore they were cautious about going outside and preferred to remain at home."

This issue was not challenging since the goal was to know how they receive and store their water resources, and to make videos of mosquitoes in the water and how they fight the problem (e.g. placing grids in windows).

GENDER FOCUS AND INCLUSION

The project touches on the problem from a gender approach. Dr. Acevedo Geurrero explains: “In Buenaventura, we have worked hand in hand with the Committee for the Defense of Water and Life. Buenaventura seeks to promote access to water and sanitation in the city. It was created after the consecutive water/sanitation crises that the city experienced during 2014-17, which ended with the Buenaventura 2018 strike’’.  

Further: ‘‘We have thus collaborated with women leaders in the Committee. In Buenaventura, and Colombia in general, it is frequently women, who are in charge of administering and making decisions regarding domestic water, sanitation, and storage spaces and techniques.’’ 

Females in Colombian cities and towns are the most affected by the issues of water supplies. Women are in charge of the house, they cook, they wash clothes, but when the water service is bad and their household chores are inhibited, then they have to go and walk to distant places to collect water, or the water only arrives late at night, which causes a huge burden on their shoulders
Dr. Roa-García

NEXT STEPS

Project partners in Colombia are currently working on analysing the information they are receiving from the participants in order to form categories and ideas and disseminate them. Dr. Roa- Garcia explained: ‘‘We are currently performing an analysis of the information and we have to have a clear idea on what we want to communicate. When we finish, we need to have a new workshop with the women, so we can reach an agreement on what to communicate to the government and the local community’’.

This project is led by Fundacion Evaristo Garcia, and implemented together with: IHE Delft, Universidad del Norte, CIDER, Universidad de los Andes, National Institute of Health, The Buenaventura Committee for the Defence of Water and Life, Secretaria de Salud de Barranquilla. You can read more about the project here, and view more information about the Water Diaries illustration and its link with the project here, and on social media here.

Header photo credits: Greg Grzegorz Sobieraj on Pexels.com.

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