Isla Urbana: Making the Most Out of Every Raindrop

That water will be the cause of the Third World War has acquired the status of a truism. However, the issue of water scarcity is not as facetious as it is portrayed to be. Satellite data released by NASA in 2015 showed that close to one-third of the planet’s river basins are in distress. Cape Town, a South African city is predicted to run out of water in a few months. This seemingly far-away problem is slowly going to creep into our homes as well. 

Water shortage is experienced by over 10 million Mexicans currently. Just within the city, close to a quarter of a million people have limited or no access to water. Other communities consume water that is severely contaminated by industrial pollutants. During times that we are blessed with rainfall, our poor water management systems cause severe flooding across the city, hindering commute, and other daily life activities.

All these have led Mexico to be ranked third amongst major world cities in terms of the gravity of our water crisis. We need to respond now while the issue is still looming over us before it is too late.

Isla Urbana

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About Isla Urbana Company 

Isla Urbana was founded in 2009 as a Not-for-Profit Organisation in the United States with the vision of resolving the water crisis in Mexico in an ecological and sustainable manner. Lluvia Para Todos is the Mexican counterpart. They work towards the mission that one day, Mexico will be able to provide equitable access to water for all its residents.

Isla Urbana hopes to achieve this vision by utilizing a natural resource that Mexico receives in abundance– rain. The company designs rainwater harvesting systems aimed at providing a source of water that Mexicans can rely on all year round. 

Started in a single house in 2009, the company today has installed over 15000 rainwater harvesting systems in Mexico city alone. Several other systems have been put in place in many water-stressed villages of rural Mexico- Xochimilco, Alvaro Obregon, Malinalco, Tlalpan. The organization works today in partnership with corporates, universities, and town municipalities.

Their work has led them to be recognized on multiple well-renowned international forums such as The BBC and MIT, among others. 

The Solution & How It Works 

Isla Urbana has created an environment-friendly and economically viable rainwater harvesting system that will collect and clean rainwater for consumption by households, schools, and health clinics. Installation is easy and maintenance is inexpensive. This project has the potential to fulfill 30% of Mexico city’s water needs and provide a household 40% of their annual water requirements. 

Rural Systems

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Communities living in rural Mexico often bear the maximum brunt of injudicious water use. Many of these indigenous populations do not have access to clean drinking water. Currently, potable water is brought to these areas using pipas (water trucks). But pipas for one, are expensive. And secondly, many of these trucks find it difficult to reach the highland terrains where these communities reside. Added to all these is the marginalization that inhabitants of rural areas are subject to. 

Residents, most often women, travel long distances to a source of water, collecting them and bringing them back to the village enduring steep trails. Even after this, 6-7 liters of water per day is what people survive on. The water scarcity issue widens the already extant gender inequality, encourages school dropouts, and affects the overall quality of life.

The efforts of Isla Urbana in these areas over the past years have led to 1000 rainwater harvesting systems being installed harvesting 45 million liters each year impacting close to 6000 beneficiaries. Some of the high-need areas that we catered to are the Wixarica communities in the Sierra of Jalisco, Mazatecas in Oaxaca, and the Raramuris in Chihuahua.

Urban Systems 

Urban areas are the epicenter of many of our water woes. Overuse and exploitation of resources, increasing industrial activity and unmanageable population growth are the culprits. The stark income inequality results in small sections of the population having an abundance of water that more than suffices their needs leaving large sections of the population with scarce quantities of water to use. Cities also immensely strain the municipality tap water and treatment systems.

Rainwater harvesting is a great way of relieving these stressed water networks. Once a system is installed and running, families can access potable water for up to 9 months of the year without having to rely on any external networks. The organization’s urban work largely focuses on high-altitude areas of southern municipalities in Mexico City.

To date, we have installed 15,000 systems that have enabled our users to collectively harvest 600 million liters annually impacting over 90,000 beneficiaries.

Rain Schools 

Rain Schools is a 2-year old initiative that was launched to ensure that children in public schools have access to clean water. Data shows that 6 out of 10 schools in Mexico have limited or no access to safe water. With rainwater harvesting, a school can capture anywhere between 500,000-1 million liters per year of rainwater taking care of 6-9 months of the school’s water needs. 

The efforts don’t just stop there. Workshops are conducted with students and teachers with the aim of educating them about the need and how-to of water sustainability. The collaborative project is designed in a participatory fashion that encourages students to take ownership of their water problems, design solutions, and facilitate adoption.

Isla Urbana

Image Courtesy: islaurbana.org

Water Culture 

We realize that for our water management systems to be truly sustainable, implementation of rainwater harvesting systems needs to be complemented by efforts at creating a rich Water Culture- one that teaches us and our communities to harmoniously coexist with nature and water cycles.

Through the Carpa Azul and IU educational programs, continuous dialogue on water and sustainable management is institutionalized through water-related talks and technical system maintenance training programs.

Pros and Cons of Isla Urbana

Rainwater harvesting is a great way to reduce the pressure that groundwater is condemned to. Having localized sources of water reduces the overall carbon footprint as well. Except for the initial costs, the system requires very little maintenance and significantly reduces your water bills.

However, erratic rainfall patterns may raise concerns over its reliability. 

Conclusion 

Our cities are sinking, water bodies are depleting and natural resources are extinguishing at a steady rate. As bizarre as it may sound right now to many of us, we may have to soon go backward in time and start bathing in measured buckets.

Isla Urbana

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Water is fundamental to the sustenance of human life. Irresponsible use is going to make us pay dearly in the future. As wasted as the planet is made to feel right now because of us, all hope is not lost. We still get rain. And it is time that we leverage this undeserved opportunity if we hope to save ourselves and our successors from a life where skirmishes over water become the most important battle to win.

Isla Urbana Contact Details 

If you wish to know more about the company, or you want to implement the solution for yourself, here are the contact details of Isla Urbana.

Official Website: https://islaurbana.org/

Email ID: [email protected]

Phone Number: 001-214-517-8792 (USA)

Contact Number: +52 (55) 5546-4831 (Mexico)

Address: Epsilon 130

Col. Romero de Terreros, Del. Coyoacán

C.P. 04310 México CDMX

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/islaurbana

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IslaUrbana

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/islaurbana/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/isla_urbana/

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