Zero Population Growth vs Population Control

By Marian Starkey
WASHINGTON DC, Jul 4 2019 – Knowledge is power, but with the caveat that said knowledge is based in fact. Otherwise, it’s misinformation.

I appreciate the journalism of IPS. Similarly, I respect and spend much of my time advocating for Americans to demand that the United States support the work of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Therefore, I was disappointed by two elements of an IPS interview with Dr. Benoit Kalasa about efforts to address population and development challenges as they pertain to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Demographic Dividend

Dr. Kalasa, Director of the Technical Division at UNFPA, says that the addition of two billion people in the next 30 years will pose challenges, but will also bring “tremendous opportunity” in the form of a demographic dividend.

The demographic dividend, however, is not predicated on future population growth, but on fertility decline that follows rapid population growth. The benefits come from a changing age structure that increases the ratio of the working-age population to the youth population.

This shrinking of the base of a country’s population pyramid allows economies to develop rapidly, if the right investments are made in health, education, and employment. That’s because, during a period when a large number of adults are economically productive, a smaller proportion of young people require their support.

In addition, when fertility declines, investments in each child tend to increase, preparing a healthier, better educated generation of future workers to be more productive per capita than their parents’ generation.

The demographic dividend is typically considered a one-generation “bonus” period, but the benefits of smaller families extend far beyond that relatively short window.

Many of today’s upper middle-income countries started this century as lower middle-income or lower-income countries — mainly those in Latin America. It’s no coincidence that the total fertility rate of the Latin America and Caribbean region nearly halved, from 3.9 to 2.0, between the early 1980s and today.

Giving readers the impression that population growth can be the silver bullet that helps an economy grow — when the population is growing most rapidly in the poorest, least developed countries — is what economists in high-income countries are known for doing.

They often tout the shortsighted Ponzi scheme of population growth for continued economic gains through an increasing consumer base, with no regard for the limits of the planet to absorb that population growth.

Zero Population Growth vs. Population Control

More troubling than the faulty description of the demographic dividend was the handling of what could have been an interesting conversation about population stabilization efforts around the world by countries that signed on to the 1994 Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, and by the international donor and NGO communities.

Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Kalasa responded to a question about the “1960s concept of Zero Population Growth (ZPG)” with a reassurance that UNFPA rejects “population control” and only supports voluntary, rights-based family planning.

Population control and ZPG are not synonymous. Zero population growth is the demographic term for a population that is growing by zero percent — neither increasing nor decreasing in size. Population control is a strategy for achieving zero population growth that is outdated and condemned by all credible groups.

It’s understandable that UNFPA would want to make absolutely clear that its mission and programs steer clear of population control. All rights-based population groups, including Population Connection (which was founded under the name “Zero Population Growth”), engage in the same reassurances.

Every Republican president in the United States since Ronald Reagan (including Donald Trump) has denied funding to UNFPA based on a fallacious interpretation of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment.

The interpretation goes like this: China has engaged in decades of coercive abortion and sterilization of its citizens. UNFPA has a program in China. Therefore, UNFPA is engaged in coercive abortion and sterilization in China.

Never mind that UNFPA’s program in China is aimed at demonstrating that rights-based family planning programs work at least as well as coercive ones. Still, because of these erroneous accusations, it makes sense that UNFPA would want to reiterate at every opportunity possible that it does not condone or tolerate population control.

Striving for zero population growth via voluntary fertility decline, however, has nothing to do with population control. Family planning programs that expand access to modern contraceptive education, services, and supplies operate for the benefit of the individuals who may choose to participate — or not — at their own discretion.

There are an estimated 214 million women in the developing world who have an unmet need for family planning: They do not want to become pregnant in the next two years, but they are not using modern contraception.

Their reasons for nonuse range from fear of side effects to living too far from a clinic to having unsupportive partners. These barriers, and more, can be address through education about myths regarding side effects; offering a full range of contraceptive options so that women can find the methods that work best for them; mobile outreach units that travel to rural areas; and partner education (and when that fails, through methods that are discreet and less likely to be detected by an unsupportive partner).

None of these strategies falls under population control, and yet they all bring us closer to zero population growth.

Australia’s Forgotten Asylum Seekers

By Charlotte Munns
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2019 – As the focus of Australian politics shifts away from refugee and asylum-seeker policies, the government avoids accountability for inhumane actions.

Despite clear concerns that Australia’s offshore processing facilities for asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island are violating basic human rights, public scrutiny seems to have waned. Recent federal elections saw little emphasis on refugee policy, followed by an apparent disinterest in critiquing the policy.

This is not in spite of recent concerns. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, Dainius Puras, issued a report on April 2nd outlining major concerns.

“Many suffer from physical and mental conditions, which seem to have been caused and exacerbated by their prolonged and indefinite confinement,” he wrote, “there are multiple reports of self-harm and suicide attempts.”

Puras also noted reports of mal-aligned bones that had not been treated, poor access to health care, a lack of specialists, and cessation of torture and trauma counselling services in the offshore facilities.

This report followed years of scrutiny from international organisations like the United Nations and Amnesty International.

On July 19th 2013, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that from that day forward no asylum seeker arriving in Australia without a visa would ever be settled in the country.

Under the policy, later named ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, all asylum seekers would be placed in detention centres on Manus Island or Nauru, and details of boat arrivals would not be made public.

This hardline policy was prompted by a marked increase in the number of boat arrivals in the country. In 2008 Australia had 161 individuals arrive. By 2012 this had increased to 17,202.

The Australian Government adopted the slogan “Stop the Boats” as part of its campaign to promote domestically and overseas that it would not resettle asylum seekers within its borders.

Simon Kurian, cinematographer and director of the documentary ‘Stop the Boats’, told IPS, “thus began the demonising of people seeking asylum in Australia, especially by sea.”

“From that time on the gross misrepresentation of people seeking asylum began; beneath the sentiment was a thick underbelly of racism which the politicians used to their advantage,” Kurian said.

Over time, both major parties adopted the “Stop the Boats” rhetoric as the policy became a political move for votes. The hardline approach has enjoyed significant public support since its conception.

In 2014, 42% of the Australian voting public were in support of the policy. In 2017, 48% agreed, according to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

Furthermore, the policy has been successful in stopping boat arrivals. While asylum seekers are still attempting to reach Australia, albeit far fewer than in past years, none have been processed in offshore facilities. Just over 50 individuals arrived in 2017, however all were returned to their country of origin.

“Offshore processing as currently enacted by the Australian Government may have served its national interests better than the current international protection system, but is still in violation of the Convention to which Australia is a signatory,” the Lowy Institute said.

While the policy has been successful in achieving its goals and responding to public opinion, the conditions under which it has been carried out have been heavily scrutinised.

Many organisations have drawn attention to the policy’s violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory.

“Every fundamental principle that underpins the Convention to which Australia is a founding signatory is contravened by the Stop the Boats and Operation Sovereign Borders policies,” Kurian said, “all of this knowingly, with intent, without compunction and with no real reprisal or consequence.”

In 2013, the Office of the UN High Commissioner criticised offshore detention centres as “below international standards for the reception and treatment of asylum seekers.”

The Guardian newspaper released in 2016 ‘The Nauru Files’ detailing over 2,000 incident reports from the detention centre. They detailed incidents of self-harm, sexual assault, abuse and injury.

While the actual operations of the detention centres have been shrouded in secrecy by the Australian government, the sheer number of alarming reports raises concern.

The Australian Government has severely limited public knowledge of boat arrivals, refused media entry to offshore detention facilities and disallowed interviews with asylum seekers. In order to get footage for his documentary, Kurian was forced to film secretly.

The Australian Government has repeatedly claimed it is the responsibility of Nauru and Papua New Guinea governments to regulate the conditions in the centres.

Despite clear concerns, and alarming secrecy, domestic and international public scrutiny has waned. While fewer boats have attempted to reach the country’s shores, there still remain hundreds of men in detention centres on Manus Island.

With the majority of women and children moved to community processing facilities on the mainland, the emotional appeal of the campaign to shut down detention centres, or at least improve conditions has weakened.

As a result, refugee policy took a peripheral role in recent federal elections. “Climate change, housing, taxation all became the focus of discussion before and during the campaign season. Neither party touched the refugee policy,” Kurian said.

By shifting the election focus, the Australian government has managed to avoid accountability for violating the UN Refugee Convention, evaded proper investigation into reports of human rights abuses, and stemmed public criticism.

“The 600 men who remain on Manus are forgotten,” Kurian said.

Libya Tragedy: Why Lock up Migrants in the First Place?

African migrants in Libya. Libya is one of the main departure points for African migrants, fleeing poverty and war, to try to reach Italy by boat. Some 3,800 migrants and refugees are held in government-run detention centres in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya in what human rights groups and the U.N. say are often inhuman conditions. A military strike on a detention centre for migrants in Libya claimed dozens of lives on Tuesday. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2019 – A military strike on a detention centre for migrants in Libya that claimed dozens of lives on Tuesday Jul. 2 has reignited a debate over the poor treatment of the mainly African people who transit through the turbulent country.

The United Nations has called for an investigation into the strike on Tajoura detention centre, which held some 600 people in a suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli — part of a global chorus condemning the attack, which killed at least 44 people and injured 130 others.

But the strike followed repeated warnings about the vulnerability of migrants in guardhouses near Libya’s hotspots, and raises tough questions about whether it was necessary to lock them up in the first place.

“This is not the first time that migrants and refugees have been caught in the crossfire, with multiple airstrikes on or near detention centres across Tripoli since the conflict started in the city,” said Prince Alfani, a coordinator for the humanitarian medical group Médecins Sans Frontières.

“What is needed now is not empty condemnation but the urgent and immediate evacuation of all refugees and migrants held in detention centres out of Libya.”

By one estimate, some 3,800 migrants and refugees are held in government-run detention centres in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya in what human rights groups and the U.N. say are often inhuman conditions.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for a war crimes probe into the strike, while condemning the “overcrowding” in Libya’s lockups for migrants and the rape and other violations that occur inside them.

“I also repeat my call for the release of detained migrants and refugees as a matter of urgency, and for their access to humanitarian protection, collective shelters or other safe places, well away from areas that are likely to be affected by the hostilities,” said Bachelet.

Libya is one of the main departure points for African migrants, fleeing poverty and war, trying to reach Italy by boat. But many are picked up and brought back by the Libyan coastguard, in a scheme backed by the European Union.

Two U.N. agencies — the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency — said they had relocated 1,500 refugees from lockups in Libya’s hotspots to safer areas in recent months.

“Including those victims at Tajoura, some 3,300 migrants and refugees remain arbitrarily detained inside and around Tripoli,” the two agencies said in a statement. “Moreover, migrants and refugees face increasing risks as clashes intensify nearby. These centres must be closed.”

In May, UNHCR had already called for the Tajoura centre to be evacuated after a projectile landed some 100 metres away, injuring two migrants. Shrapnel from that blast tore through the lockup’s roof and almost hit a child.

This week’s strike was the highest publicly reported toll from an air strike or shelling since eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive three months ago to take Tripoli, the base of Libya’s internationally-recognised government.

The U.N. Security Council was expected to condemn the attack late Wednesday,  Jul. 3, though it remained unclear whether it was the fault of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force, the U.N.-backed Tripoli-based government’s forces or another group.

Haftar’s LNA, allied to a parallel government based in eastern Libya, has seen its advance on Tripoli held up by robust defences on the outskirts of the capital, and said it would start heavy air strikes after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres was “outraged” by the “horrendous incident” and called for an “independent investigation” to prosecute those responsible for what many onlookers call a war crime, said his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“This incident underscores the urgency to provide all refugees and migrants with safe shelter until their asylum claims can be processed or they can be safely repatriated,” Dujarric told reporters Wednesday.

Haftar’s bid to capture Tripoli has derailed U.N. efforts to broker an end to the mayhem that has ravaged the hydrocarbon-producing North African country since the brutal, NATO-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Why Environmental and Humanitarian Action Must Be Linked

Smoking fish in kilns in Ggaba, Uganda. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that brick-making kilns were burning 52,000 trees every year. Credit: Pius Sawa/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2019 – Environmental and humanitarian action is often understood as two different sectors. However, the lack of awareness regarding its intersections could lead to further long-term devastation.

With the growing number of crises around the world, humanitarian actors are essential. They are often the first responders during and after a crisis, providing urgent, life-saving assistance.

However, there is an increasing need for such actors to pay attention to long-term implications of operations, particularly with regards to the environment.

“[The environment] is not integrated into humanitarian programming…while we are very clear that the humanitarian focus is life-saving assistance, we also understand that this cannot be done if you are compromising of the lives of future generations or even the current generation in the long-term,” head of the Joint Environment Unit (JEU) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Emilia Wahlstrom, told IPS.

“Environmental degradation is causing humanitarian crises, and humanitarian crises are exacerbating areas that are already under a lot of strain.”

World Agroforestry Centre’s head of programme development Cathy Watson echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “There is a paradigm that in emergencies you are saving lives and you don’t have time to think about these other things. The problem with that paradigm is pretty soon it settles down and then you really have to think about what sustains their lives and that is usually the natural environment. So if that’s not taken care of, you can end up having an even worse situation.”

“Environmental degradation is causing humanitarian crises, and humanitarian crises are exacerbating areas that are already under a lot of strain,” she added.

According to a 2014 study by JEU, Sudan’s humanitarian crisis was closely linked with deforestation and desertification due to humanitarian operations.

Such deforestation was caused by the need for firewood for cooking and dry bricks for construction, and humanitarian operations exacerbated the problem as there was an unprecedented demand for construction. 

The UNEP estimated that brick-making kilns were burning 52,000 trees every year.

Such activities reduce soil fertility, decrease water supplies, and destroy valuable agricultural land, impacting the already fragile livelihoods of millions affected and displaced by conflict.

Already, worsening land degradation caused by human activities as a whole is undermining the well-being of two-fifths of the world’s population.

According to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 60 percent of all ecosystem services are degraded. Reduced ecosystem functions makes regions more prone to extreme weather events such as flood and landslides as well as further conflict and insecurity.

Approximately 40 percent of all intrastate conflicts in the past 60 years are linked to natural resources.

Most recently, the influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh has put a strain on environmental resources. According to the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), over 4,000 acres of hills and forests were cut down to make temporary shelters, facilities, and cooking fuel in Ukhia and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazaar for the 1.5 million refugee population.

Such deforestation has increased the risk of landslides and tensions between host and refugee communities are escalating.

However, refugees shouldn’t be to blame, Watson noted.

“Refugees are just doing what they have to do to get by but we can take a much more ecological approach and really think about how we’re going to maintain the ecosystems that sustains these refugees, provide water, provide fertile soil,  and wood to cook,” she said.

Since the average time a refugee remains displaced can now be up to 26 years, the need for a more ecological approach is necessary.

“There’s plenty of time to really build up the environmental well being of the area so that people can also feel good, live well, have shade, have fruit, have clean water….you’re not going to grow food for very long if you cut all the trees down,” Watson told IPS.

Both Watson and Wahlstrom highlighted the importance for humanitarian actors to use available guidelines, tools, and resources ensure their operations aid populations in the long-term.

For instance, the Sphere Handbook, first piloted in 1998, provides minimum standards for humanitarian response including the need to integrate environmental impact assessments in all shelter and settlement planning, restore the ecological value of settlements during and after use, and opt for sustainable materials and techniques that do not deplete natural resources.

“We know what to do, everyone knows what to do. But we are not doing it…the leaders and decision makers should change the way we do our business,” Wahlstrom said.

Watson made similar comments, stating: “There are so many good guidelines, but theres not been a lot of enforcement or awareness of ecological thinking…if you really think about how to manage the landscape and map it out and work out where you’re going to get fuel from, what areas must be protected because of water—you can build areas that are much more resilient and productive.”

While some humanitarian agencies have already begun to address environmental concerns, Wahlstrom pointed to the need for both environmental and humanitarian actors to also work together.

“Because of the life-saving mandate and the very urgent elements of [the humanitarian sector’s] work, environmental actors and development actors are a bit wary to get involved because they feel like it is not their place,” she told IPS.

“The planet is burning, and environmental actors—we no longer have the privilege of sitting in our scientific community and working on our reports. We have to go out there and we have to spread the message,” Wahlstrom added.

The Environmental and Humanitarian Action Network (EHA) hopes to do just that. Though it is an informal network, the EHA brings together humanitarian and environmental experts to share guidance, good practices, and policies to mitigate the environmental impacts of humanitarian operations.

“Time is running out. We really cannot afford to not collaborate…we are stronger together and together we can have a better response and be better prepared,” Wahlstrom said.

Chilean Schools Recycle Greywater to Combat Drought

The principal of the Samo Alto rural school, Omar Santander, shows organic tomatoes in the greenhouse built by teachers, students and their families, who raise the crops irrigated with rainwater or recycled water in Coquimbo, a region of northern Chile where rainfall is scarce. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The principal of the Samo Alto rural school, Omar Santander, shows organic tomatoes in the greenhouse built by teachers, students and their families, who raise the crops irrigated with rainwater or recycled water in Coquimbo, a region of northern Chile where rainfall is scarce. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
OVALLE, Chile, Jul 4 2019 – Children from the neighboring municipalities of Ovalle and Río Hurtado in northern Chile are harvesting rain and recycling greywater in their schools to irrigate fruit trees and vegetable gardens, in an initiative aimed at combating the shortage of water in this semi-arid region.

And other youngsters who are completing their education at a local polytechnic high school built a filter that will optimise the reuse and harvesting of water.

“The care of water has to start with the children,” Alejandra Rodríguez, who has a son who attends the school in Samo Alto, a rural village on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in Río Hurtado, a small municipality of about 4,000 inhabitants in the Coquimbo region, told IPS.

“My son brought me a tomato he harvested, to use the seeds. For them, the harvest is the prize. He planted his garden next to the house and it was very exciting,” said Maritza Vega, a teacher at the school, which has 77 students ranging in age from four to 15.

The principal of the school, Omar Santander, told IPS during a tour of rural schools in the area involved in the project that “the Hurtado River (which gives the municipality its name) was traditionally generous, but today it only has enough water for us to alternate the crops that are irrigated, every few days. People fight over watering rights.”

The Samo Alto school collects rainwater and recycles water after different uses. “The water is then sent to a double filter,” he explained, pointing out that they have a pond that holds 5,000 liters.

The monthly water bill is much lower, but Santander believes that the most important thing “is the awareness it has generated in the children.”

“There used to be water here, and the adults’ habits come from back then. The students help raise awareness in their families. We want the environmental dimension to be a tool for life,” he said.

For Admalén Flores, a 13-year-old student, “the tomatoes you harvest are tastier and better,” while Alexandra Honores, also 13, said “my grandfather now reuses water.”

El Guindo primary school, located 10 kilometers from the city of Ovalle, the municipal seat, in a town known as a hotspot for drug sales, performed poorly in tests until three years ago.

At that time, the principal, Patricio Bórquez, and the science teacher, Gisela Jaime, launched a process of greywater recovery. They also planted trees and native species of plants to adapt to the dry environment of the municipality of 111,000 inhabitants, located about 400 kilometers north of Santiago.

Four students, ages 13 and 14, talk to IPS about how the water reuse project has made them aware of the importance of taking care of water in the semi-arid territory where they live, in a classroom at the rural school of El Guindo, in the municipality of Ovalle, Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Four students, ages 13 and 14, talk to IPS about how the water reuse project has made them aware of the importance of taking care of water in the semi-arid territory where they live, in a classroom at the rural school of El Guindo, in the municipality of Ovalle, Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

“The project was born because there was no vegetation,” said the teacher. Today they recover 8,000 litres of water a month. “Teaching care for the environment provides a life skill,” said Bórquez.

“Our school had the stigma of being in a place rife with drug addiction. Today in Ovalle we are known as the school with the most programs. We placed third in science,” she said.

Jaime described the experience as “gratifying” because it has offered “tools to grow and create awareness among children and the entire community about the importance of caring for water and other resources.”

Geographer Nicolás Schneider, founder of the “Un Alto en el Desierto” Foundation, told IPS that his non-governmental organisation estimates that one million litres of greywater have been recovered after eight years of work with rural schools in Ovalle.

In this arid municipality with variable rainfall, “only 37.6 mm of rainwater fell in 2018 – well below the normal average for the 1981-2010 period of 105.9 mm,” Catalina Cortés, an expert with Chile’s meteorology institute, told IPS from Santiago.

Schneider describes the water situation as critical in the Coquimbo region, which is on the southern border of the Atacama Desert and where 90 percent of the territory is eroded and degraded.

“Due to climate change, it is raining less and less and when it does, the rainfall is very concentrated. Both the lack of rain and the concentration of rainfall cause serious damage to the local population,” she said.

Innovative recycling filter

With guidance from their teachers, students at the Ovalle polytechnic high school built a filtration system devised by Eduardo Leiva, a professor of chemistry and pharmacy at the Catholic University. The filter seeks to raise the technical standard with which greywater is purified.

Duan Urqueta, 17, a fourth-year electronics student at the Ovalle polytechnic high school, describes the award-winning greywater filter he helped to build. Initially, units will be installed in eight rural schools in this municipality in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Duan Urqueta, 17, a fourth-year electronics student at the Ovalle polytechnic high school, describes the award-winning greywater filter he helped to build. Initially, units will be installed in eight rural schools in this municipality in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The prototype recycles the greywater from the bathrooms used by the 1,200 students at the polytechnic high school. This water is used to irrigate three areas with 48 different species of trees. Similar filters will be installed in eight rural schools in Ovalle.

The quality of the recovered water will improve due to the filter built thanks to a project by the Innovation Fund for Competitiveness of the regional government of Coquimbo, with the participation of the Catholic University, the “Un Alto en el Desierto” Foundation, and the Ovalle polytechnic high school.

The prototype was built by 18 students and eight teachers of mechanics, industrial assembly, electronics, electricity and technical drawing, and includes two 1,000-litre ponds.

The primary pond holds water piped from the bathroom sinks by gravity which is then pumped to a filter consisting of three columns measuring 0.35 meters high and 0.40 meters in diameter.

“The filter material in each column…can be activated charcoal, sand or gravel,” said Hernán Toro, the head teacher of industrial assembly.

Toro told IPS that “the prototype has a column with zeolite and two columns of activated charcoal. The columns are mounted on a metal structure 2.60 meters high.”

View of the water cleaning filter designed at the Ovalle polytechnic high school and built by a group of teachers and students with funding from the government of the region of Coquimbo, in northern Chile. Each unit costs 2,170 dollars and it will promote water recycling in the schools in the semi-arid municipality. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

View of the water cleaning filter designed at the Ovalle polytechnic high school and built by a group of teachers and students with funding from the government of the region of Coquimbo, in northern Chile. Each unit costs 2,170 dollars and it will promote water recycling in the schools in the semi-arid municipality. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The water is pumped from the pond to the filter’s highest column, passes through the filter material and by gravity runs sequentially through the other columns. Finally, the water is piped into the secondary pond and by means of another electric pump it reaches the irrigation system.

Duan Urqueta, a 17-year-old electronics student, told IPS that they took soil and water samples in seven towns in Ovalle and “we used the worst water to test the filter that is made here at the high school with recyclable materials.”

In 2018, “we won first place with the filter at the Science Fair in La Serena, the capital of the region of Coquimbo,” he said proudly.

Pablo Cortés, a 17-year-old student of industrial assembly, said the project “changed me as a person.”

Toro said the experience “has been enriching and has had a strong social impact. We are sowing the seeds of ecological awareness in the students.”

“It’s a programme that offers learning, service, and assistance to the community. Everyone learns. We have seen people moved to the point of tears in their local communities,” the teacher said.

Now they are going to include solar panels in the project, which will cut energy costs, while they already have an automation system to discharge water, which legally can only be stored for a short time.

Eight schools, including the ones in Samo Alto and El Guindo, are waiting for the new filters, which cost 2,170 dollars per unit.

Schneider believes, however, that at the macro level “water recycling is insufficient” to combat the lack of water in this semi-arid zone. And he goes further, saying “there is an absence of instruments for territorial planning or management of watersheds.”

“Under the current water regulatory framework, the export agribusiness, mainly of fruit, has taken over the valleys, concentrating water use…and the government turns a blind eye,” he complained.