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  • 3 junio, 2016
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¿Por qué es tan importante el tratamiento de aguas residuales?

Por Carlota Real, ejecutiva de desarrollo social en CAF –banco de desarrollo de América Latina

En los últimos años, América Latina ha mejorado significativamente la gestión del agua, especialmente en lo referente a la expansión de la cobertura de los servicios: hoy en día, el 94,6% de los latinoamericanos disfruta de agua potable (89,6% en 2000) y  el 83,1% tiene acceso a fuentes de saneamiento mejoradas (74,7% en 2000).

De todas formas, cuando hablamos de la gestión de los recursos hídricos, sistemáticamente aparece una asignatura pendiente: las aguas residuales. Actualmente, más del 70% de éstas que se generan en la región son devueltas al medio natural -ríos, mares o tierras- sin ningún tratamiento. Esto impacta negativamente en la salud pública, la preservación de los recursos naturales, el medio ambiente y el sector productivo, siendo las poblaciones vulnerables con más mala calidad de servicios las que se llevan la peor parte.

Las consecuencias económicas también son evidentes: en muchas ocasiones el costo del impacto generado por estos residuos supera a la inversión necesaria para depurar las propias aguas residuales. Por ejemplo, las fuentes de agua están cada vez más contaminadas, y requieren de procesos de potabilización más intensos y por lo tanto más costosos. Además, el agua contaminada suele ser el origen de múltiples enfermedades, lo cual no solo representa un gran riesgo para las personas sino que también aumenta considerablemente el gasto de los Estados en salud.
Paralelamente, el acelerado proceso de urbanización en América Latina ha incrementado el flujo de aguas residuales en las ciudades, hecho que ha desbordado la capacidad de las pequeñas y medianas empresas que no suelen contar con la infraestructura ni el desarrollo tecnológico necesario. Esto, sumado al hecho de que un 40% de los servicios de saneamiento en zonas urbanas no están conectados a sistemas de alcantarillado, supone una enorme carga para el medio ambiente.

Paradójicamente, la alta tasa de urbanización ha generado procesos de aglomeración de las ciudades latinoamericanas que facilitan y economizan la depuración de sus aguas residuales, en contraste con las diseminadas poblaciones rurales que requieren mayores inversiones en infraestructura.
Inversiones necesarias

Según un estudio realizado por CAF, entre 2010 y 2030 los países de la región deberían invertir 33.000 millones de dólares en infraestructura para el tratamiento de aguas residuales, y otros 79.000 millones en alcantarillado, para lograr depurar el 64% de las aguas tratadas y alcanzar un 94% de cobertura en alcantarillado.

En la mayoría de los países de América Latina se ha comprendido esta realidad y se están tomando acciones al respecto. Panamá, por ejemplo, ha trabajado en los últimos años en el Proyecto de Saneamiento de la Ciudad y Bahía, que incluye obras de alcantarillado, plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales y distintos trabajos de fortalecimiento institucional orientados a reforzar las capacidades de operación y mantenimiento.

Hay que resaltar este último punto, ya que una parte importante para asegurar el éxito de estas intervenciones y evitar que caigan en saco roto es el desarrollo de las capacidades de los tomadores de decisión y de los técnicos encargados de supervisar la ejecución, mantenimiento y operación de la infraestructura.

Conscientes de esta problemática y del gran desafío al que se enfrenta la región en términos técnicos como financieros, CAF, en conjunto con la Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID), el Banco Mundial y el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID), organizará un curso sobre tratamiento de aguas residuales y operación de estaciones depuradoras. Este se realizará en Madrid del 5 al 15 de septiembre de 2016 y será impartido por el Centro de Estudios y Experimentación de Obras Públicas (CEDEX), adscrito al Ministerio de Alimentación Medio Ambiente (MAGRAMA) de España. El público objetivo son los directivos y personal responsable de la toma de decisiones del sector en América Latina, que provienen de empresas gestoras de servicios, organismos ejecutores de proyectos y/o de las administraciones públicas de la región.

De esta manera, se busca promover y transmitir el conocimiento adquirido en la experiencia española sobre el tratamiento de aguas residuales y orientarlo a la realidad latinoamericana. El propósito final del curso es contribuir a fortalecer las capacidades de los actores en el diseño de proyectos y la planificación sectorial, así como proporcionar herramientas, enfoques conceptuales y criterios de decisión a los participantes. Ello, para cerrar las brechas que alejan a la región del objetivo en materia de tratamiento de aguas residuales, esencial para mejorar la salud de todos los latinoamericanos y evitar la degradación ambiental proveniente de las aguas no tratadas.

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