By Edgardo Ayala SUCHITOTO, El Salvador, Nov 11 2022 (IPS)
Several community-run water projects powered by solar energy have improved the quality of life of thousands of rural families in areas that were the scene of heavy fighting during El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s.
The families now have running water, thanks to a collective effort launched when the war ended in 1992, after they returned to their former homes, which they had fled years earlier because of the intense fighting.
The largest of these community water systems driven by solar power is located in the canton of El Zapote, Suchitoto municipality, in the central Salvadoran department of Cuscatlán.
“The first step was to come together and buy this place to drill the well, do tests and build the tank, and we had a lot of help from other organizations that supported us,” Ángela Pineda, president of the Zapote-Platanares Community-Rural Association for Water, Health and the Environment, told IPS.
The association is a “junta de agua” or water board, which are community organizations that bring water to remote areas of El Salvador where the government does not have the capacity to supply it, such as the one installed in the canton of El Zapote.
There are an estimated 2,500 water boards in the country, providing service to 25 percent of the population, or some 1.6 million people. The vast majority of them operate with energy from the national power grid.
But five of the boards, located in the vicinity of Suchitoto, obtained financial support from organizations such as Companion Communities Development Alternatives (CoCoDA), based in Indianapolis, Indiana, for taking a technological leap towards operating with solar energy.
“The advantage is that the systems are powered by clean, renewable energies that do not pollute the environment,” Karilyn Vides, director of operations in El Salvador for the U.S.-based CoCoDA, told IPS.
Four previous projects of this type, supported since 2010 by CoCoDA, were small, with less than 10 solar panels. But the one mounted in the canton of El Zapote was planned to be equipped with 96 panels, when it was conceived in 2021.
It was inaugurated in June 2022, although it had been operating since 2004, with hydropower from the national grid.
This effort benefits more than 2,500 families settled around Suchitoto and on the slopes of Guazapa mountain which during the 12-year civil war was a stronghold of the then guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), now a political party that governed the country between 2009 and 2019.
However, when including the four other small solar water projects, plus five that continue to operate with electricity from the national grid, all financially supported by CoCoDA after the end of the war, the total number of beneficiaries climbs to 10,000 people.
El Salvador’s bloody armed conflict left some 75,000 people dead and more than 8,000 missing. between 1980 and 1992.