Using Renewable Energy and the Circular Economy to Fight Poverty in Argentina

Milagros Sánchez, coordinator of the urban biosystem that
operates in a community soup kitchen in Ciudad Oculta, a poor
neighbourhood on the south side of the Argentine capital, shows the
vegetables and mushrooms grown using waste products in crates and
drawers on the roof. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 29 2019 (IPS)

On the outer edges of Buenos Aires proper, where the paved
streets end and the narrow alleyways of one of Argentina’s
largest shantytowns begin, visitors can find the En Haccore soup
kitchen.

The community endeavor is using renewable energy and the
circular economy in an effort to improve quality of life for local
residents.

“We were overrun by trash, because the garbage trucks don’t
always come. Thanks to a biodigester we are now converting that
waste into biogas, which enables us to spend less on energy for
cooking. It’s a dream come true,” Bilma Acuña, the founder and
head of the soup kitchen, told IPS.”In our view, the main
environmental problem is the exclusion of the poor, and we can help
take care of the environment by improving people’s quality of life
and facilitating their access to energy and healthy food.” —
Gonzalo del Castillo

She explained that she started the soup kitchen in 1993, after
losing her job at a meatpacking plant, at a time that many others
in the neighbourhood also became unemployed during the government
of neoliberal president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), when the
unemployment rate climbed to almost 20 percent.

She named it En
Haccore
(En-hakkore), the Aramaic name of a spring in the
biblical story of Samson and Delilah. The soup kitchen is on the
southern edge of the Argentine capital, a 15-minute drive from
downtown, at the entrance to the overcrowded shantytown of 25,000
people known as Ciudad Oculta (Hidden City).

Today, in a country of 44 million people where 2.65 million have
fallen into poverty since last year, according to official data,
Acuña says there are more unmet needs than ever in her
neighbourhood.

That becomes clear after walking with her for just a few
minutes: local residents come up to her and ask for milk, rice,
noodles or any food that they can take home. The soup kitchen
serves lunch and a tea-time snack to 300 people Monday to Friday,
but every day new people show up, asking for a meal.

Since 2017, an “urban biosystem” has been operating in En
Haccore, whose aim is to replicate in an urban setting the workings
of nature, where everything that is consumed is generated within
the system itself and all waste is reused, as part of a circular
economy.

Thus, the biodigester, which is an airtight container where the
lack of oxygen leads to the appearance of bacteria that decompose
organic matter, is not only used to produce biogas from the peels
of dozens of kilos of potatoes or carrots that are consumed every
day in En Haccore.

View of the biodigester that produces biogas, used for cooking in the En Haccore community soup kitchen in a Buenos Aires shantytown. The leftover waste is used as fertiliser and compost in the urban garden on the facility’s rooftop. Credit: Courtesy of CeSus

View of the biodigester that produces biogas, used for cooking
in the En Haccore community soup kitchen in a Buenos Aires
shantytown. The leftover waste is used as fertiliser and compost in
the urban garden on the facility’s rooftop. Credit: Courtesy of
CeSus

The waste is also used to produce compost and fertiliser for the
urban garden growing on the rooftop of the soup kitchen.

In addition, there is a solar collector that heats water using
thermal energy, making it possible to purchase less bottled gas,
since in this poor part of the city there is no connection to
natural gas pipes.

“In our view, the main environmental problem is the exclusion
of the poor, and we can help take care of the environment by
improving people’s quality of life and facilitating their access
to energy and healthy food,” Gonzalo del Castillo, who is
ultimately responsible for the initiative, told IPS.

“We want to debunk the idea that only those who already have
their basic needs met can take care of the environment. On the
contrary, we believe that increasing environmental quality helps
people who face greater obstacles to develop their resilience,
which is the ability to adapt to the problems of the
environment,” he adds.

Del Castillo is the director of the Argentine Chapter of the
Club of Rome, an international organisation founded in Italy in
1968 that brings together people from different backgrounds and
areas and was one of the first voices to raise the challenges to
human welfare caused by the destruction of the environment.

In Argentina, the local
branch of the Club of Rome
created the Centre for Sustainability for Local
Governments
(CeSus), which provides technical assistance to
municipalities on environmental and social issues and was invited
by the Buenos Aires city government to work in Ciudad Oculta.

Bilma Acuña is the founder and director of the En Haccore soup kitchen, located on the border between the city of Buenos Aires and the shantytown of Ciudad Oculta. The facility also has a network of mothers who fight drug use among young people. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Bilma Acuña is the founder and director of the En Haccore soup
kitchen, located on the border between the city of Buenos Aires and
the shantytown of Ciudad Oculta. The facility also has a network of
mothers who fight drug use among young people. Credit: Daniel
Gutman/IPS

The project seeks to counter the system by which food and fuel
produced in rural areas are consumed in urban areas, while the
resulting waste is often dumped back in the countryside.

Del Castillo explains that the idea in En Haccore was to build
“an integrated system, where solar energy reduces the consumption
of gas for cooking, while the waste produced in the soup kitchen
feeds the bidiogester and this generates new energy in the form of
biogas, while leaving other waste that is used to fertilise the
organic garden and the machine that makes compost.”

The garden is simply crates and drawers filled with soil on the
cement roof, where vegetables and mushrooms are grown using waste
like coffee grounds, as well as hydroponic crops, which do not use
soil but depend on the efficient use of water.

There is also a collection point for used vegetable oil, which
is periodically picked up by a foundation that uses it to make
biodiesel.

“Cooking oil was a very serious problem here, because it was
often dumped into pipes or wells and altered the entire system, due
to the precariousness of the sanitation infrastructure, which is
informal,” the coordinator of the project in Ciudad Oculta,
Milagros Sánchez, told IPS.

View of the entrance to the Ciudad Oculta shantytown, within the larger informal neighbourhood of Villa Lugano on the south side of the Argentine capital, a 15-minute drive from downtown Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

View of the entrance to the Ciudad Oculta shantytown, within the
larger informal neighbourhood of Villa Lugano on the south side of
the Argentine capital, a 15-minute drive from downtown Buenos
Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The experimental project includes key participation by the
community through training workshops, because the aim is for it to
continue when CeSus pulls out.

“Now I dream of having a biodigester and a solar collector to
produce my own energy in my house,” said Alejandra Pugliese, a
local resident who told IPS that her participation in workshops
where she learned about urban gardening changed the way she sees
life.

“I became aware that if you connect with the cycles of nature
it is possible to improve quality of life even with few
resources,” added Pugliese, who works caring for children and the
elderly and has recently seen a drop in her income due to the
recession that began in Argentina in 2018.

The urban biosystem is also being developed in another soup
kitchen in Ciudad Oculta and in another shantytown in the south of
Buenos Aires, Villa 21.

Some three million people live in more than 4,000 shantytowns or
slums, known as “villas”, in this Southern Cone country,
according to a survey carried out last year by the government in
conjunction with social organisations.

CeSus is seeking support from the public sector to demonstrate
that it is possible for urban communities, not only in
“villas”, to apply the circular logic of natural ecosystems in
order to become self-sustainable.

The circular economy consists, precisely, of replacing a model
based on producing-consuming-disposing with one based on
producing-consuming-recycling, and includes a transition to clean
energy, with the aim of coexistence with the environment.

The post
Using Renewable Energy and the Circular Economy to Fight Poverty in
Argentina
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Using Renewable Energy and the Circular Economy to Fight Poverty in Argentina