The environmental crisis looms in Latin America |


Addressing the complexities of providing safe drinking water and safe sanitation in an era of climate volatility was touched on during the 32nd Water Action Platform webinar on October 28, 2021. Hosted by the President from the island, Dr Piers Clark and supported by technology consultant Rodrigo Valladares, this event focused on Latin. America – highlighting the looming and growing environmental challenges.

An influx of Sargassum is a major challenge for the Caribbean (Image source: Isle Utilities)

The initiatives and technologies implemented were presented across Mexico, Chile and Colombia.

Access challenge
Sergio Campos, head of the water and sanitation division of the Inter-American Development Bank, spoke about the main challenges facing the water sector in Latin America, including social inclusion and equality, productivity and innovation, and economic integration – while considering the effects of climate change and environmental sustainability.

“The main challenges for the water sector in Latin America are mainly related to access – 25 to 30% of the population in Latin America does not have a continuous or potable water source,” Campos said. “And for sanitation, nearly two-thirds of the Latin American population do not have access to adequate sludge management.

“But it’s not just access, it’s also vulnerability to climate change. We estimate that we need around $ 20 billion per year to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and there are important things that need to be addressed in terms of corporate governance, regulation and innovation.

While Latin America has a third of the world’s freshwater reserves, it includes many drylands and faces the challenge of varying rates of innovation adoption.

“What is a game changer is innovation,” Campos said, “but not just related to technology – it has to be holistic, so innovation in governance, communication and socialization too.”

Turning to environmental challenges, Clark told the webinar audience, “There are two major environmental disasters looming in this part of the world, and due to the potential impact they could have across the world, we must be aware of it. “

Clark identified hypoxic waters – or dead zones – and the over-accumulation of a large brown algae called sargassum as the main challenges facing the region.

Tackle dead zones
The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is one of the largest hypoxic areas in the world and sits at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which has telltale low concentrations of dissolved oxygen. The challenge arises from the impact of fertilizers from farmland causing nutrient enrichment in the river, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.

The size of the area varies with river flow and rainfall and this is more variable than ever due to climate change. Clark argued that the key to minimizing the Gulf dead zone is to address issues at the source – using less fertilizer to limit excessive runoff, controlling animal waste entering streams, and monitoring wastewater treatment facilities to reduce release of nutrients.

Add value to algae
A massive influx of Sargassum into the layers of the Caribbean Sea is the other major challenge, but a circular economy approach is being explored to rebalance the natural environment. The cause of the excess algae is believed to be an increased nutrient load due to deforestation and other changes in land use.

“The increased invasion of Sargassum has had adverse effects on human health and ecosystems, as well as on tourism. Long-term management strategies are needed to deal with adverse impacts, ”said Rodrigo Valladares, the island’s technology consultant.

Scientists are now working urgently to bring thinking about the circular economy to the question of Sargassum – which has the potential as a valuable resource. Experiments are underway to explore its use as a biorefinery feedstock, extracting biogas, biofertilizers, alginate and fine chemicals.

Chilean technologies
A robot that inspects hard-to-reach tunnels and an air bubble blanket to filter pollution were featured in this month’s tech showcase that highlighted Chile’s solutions.

Diego Olivares Meneses, innovation manager at Aguas Andinas (AA), Chile’s largest utility, explained how the utility is facing increasing pressure on its water supplies due to low rainfall, and how it uses technology to become more water efficient with its existing resources.

One of the programs is to use remote-controlled tunnel inspection robots to perform diagnostic tests in difficult or dangerous to reach pipelines without the need to disrupt the supply. Knowing the actual condition of assets supports the development of maintenance and repair schedules for operational and financial optimization. The utility is currently developing more aerodynamic robots to increase its ability to detect and solve problems and improve water management across its network.

PSP is a Chilean tech company in the aquaculture industry and director Luis Sepulveda explained how the company uses an air bubble barrier technology known as LowO2 to combat pollution in tanks. A specially designed pipeline diffuser enables the uniform generation of millions of microbubbles, creating a “wall” that blocks the passage of unwanted elements such as microalgae, algae, oil and waste.

According to Sepulveda, the permanent use of these barriers can have a significant positive impact on ecosystems by minimizing the fouling of pipes and backwashing, as well as the release of organic matter into the environment.

Great leap forward
The Water Action Platform was initially launched in March 2020 to support the utility’s response to the global pandemic. Times are changing and attention is now on the even greater challenge of the climate crisis.

Piers Clark said: “Next month I will be sharing details of a new initiative called Trial Reservoir – which in my opinion is the most exciting thing that has happened in the water business in a generation and which has the potential to take a significant leap forward in our approach. to the climate crisis.


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