• Written by Mark Tiele Westra
    7 October 2009

Akvopedia editor Mark Westra is spending a month at EMAS in Bolivia. Here’s his first report.

On the shore of the Titicaca lake, about an hour’s drive from the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, lies Puerto Pérez, a small village. At this far-flung place, German engineer Wolfgang Eloy Buchner has created a unique Technology Demonstration Centre called EMAS, a Spanish acronym for Mobile School for Water and Sanitation. The ‘mobile’ refers mostly to Wolfgang himself, who is extremely energetic and trains people all over the world. For the coming month, I will be his guest. We are at 3700 metres, so at the moment I am still catching my breath.

“We pump our own water, shower under solar-heated water, and use hand-dug latrines.”

11 hours per day of super-intensive training

The EMAS concept consists of a complete set of low-cost water and sanitation technologies, such as manual well drilling, water pumps, windmills, irrigation, solar water heating, latrines, and ferrocement tanks. From the 1st to the 31st of October, Wolfgang has organised a super-intensive (think 11 hours a day), hands-on training course, during which a group of 20 people will learn how to apply these technologies themselves. He gives these courses twice a year. Most participants are from Bolivia and Peru, ranging from farmers to professional well drillers. There is a development worker from Germany, and there is me.

At the demonstration center in Puerto Pérez, all the technologies are used by the participants during their stay – we pump our own water, shower under solar-heated water, and use hand-dug latrines. Interestingly, it takes a while to realise the EMAS center does not have a connection to a municipal water supply. Nor does it have a connection to centralised sewerage. And yet a group of 25 people can stay there with a very high level of comfort. Water is obtained from catching rainwater, and from home made wells. Sewage is treated in a natural way using a constructed wetland. Windmills pump water for irrigation fields of onions and carrots.

And the most amazing thing is that all the technologies here were made with the simplest, locally available materials, such as steel pipes and sheets, PVC pipes, and plastic hose. Nothing else. That means that what Wolfgang has done here can be replicated all over the world.

Wolfgang has a great habit of documenting all the technologies that he works with using movies, many of which are already available on the EMAS blip tv channel. And there is more to come!

During the month ahead I’ll learn how to make all the technologies myself, and I will report on my progress through this blog. I hope I can help Wolfgang make the knowledge of these technologies available to a wider audience, by publishing more movies and making Akvopedia articles. You can already check out these Akvopedia articles on EMAS, on EMAS well drilling, and this article on EMAS pumps. Or have a look at this movie, showing the EMAS drilling method.

Mark Westra is the editor of Akvopedia.