Water for 30 Cents a Barrel

17 January 2006
© IAEAPeople in northern Colombia deliver water to their neighbors by pushing a makeshift cart along the region’s main railway.Living conditons are poor and unhealthy for thousands of displaced families in northern Colombia, who live in makeshift dwellings without water and sanitation services. Their survival depends on water that is delivered and sold to them.Pushing water carts along railroad tracks for delivery to needy families is a hard day's job for a young boy in the village.When the water arrives, children help to distribute the barrels in the villages. Families have to rely on each other for the clean water they need to survive.Water drawn from the undergound aquifer at Morroa in northern Colombia is the sole source of freshwater for half a million people in the region. The IAEA is assisting Colombia to sustain this precious resource.The IAEA supports scientists in Colombia and other countries to use isotopic and nuclear techniques for studying aquifers. What they learn helps assure that the underground lakes are managed properly, and that they are protected against pollution and rapidHector Mario Herrera is head of the hydrology team at the Carsucre Laboratory in Morroa. By studying the isotopes in water samples, he and his team can evaluate the amount of water in the Morroa aquifer and estimate how much can be sustainably tapped over time.For those lucky enough to have it, running water brings more than a smile in northern Colombia.A delivery man fills plastic containers with water from wells tapped into the Morroa aquifer. Families in northern Colombia have to pay high prices for water delivered this way.Man and beast struggle to bring fresh water to remote areas of northern Colombia. Water deliveries are made to this boy’s family once a week. A barrel of clean water can cost upwards of 30 cents -- a huge sum for most Colombians who live on less than a few dollars a month.Through their water studies, scientists learned that the runoff from poorly-located gravesites is a potential source of contamination to the Morroa aquifer. Applications of isotopes in hydrology are based on the concept of “tracing”, in which either stable or radioactive isotopes -- such as oxygen-18 or carbon-14 -- are used to track and evaluate specific water characteristics and conditions.Other sources of groundwater pollution in northern Colombia are illegally dumped garbage and livestock excrement.A field technician from the Carsucre Laboratory in Morroa measures the groundwater level. Equipment and training provided by the IAEA helps Colombian scientists study the water’s quality. Water is a refreshing lifeline, especially where it's needed most. In northern Colombia, the IAEA's work is helping scientists apply nuclear science to protect the Morroa aquifer for this young girl and generations to come. Colombia is among countries in Latin America that joined an IAEA regional project for technical cooperation in the field of isotope hydrology.© IAEA
Last update: 23 October 2014