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UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC to Convert Park Landfill by Natural Treatment Technologies

Researchers at the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC are working with sustainable technologies to convert a rubbish dump of the Colombian city of Medellin in a urban park for the citizens, with a ecomuseum and Scientific-Technological Center to serve as a testing ground for several groups of researchers involved in the project. To do so, they combine the natural treatment technologies such as constructed wetlands, and buffer strips, strips of vegetation that absorb and help to the degradation of pollutants.

Morro de Moravia project

The city of Medellin, during the 70s and 80s saw a spate of displaced persons from rural areas who settled spontaneously, with barracks, on a large garbage dump located next to the bus station. This settlement is known as El Morro de Moravia. The health situation that suffered the people from this rubbish dump neighborhood was appalling. With the mayor Sergio Fajardo and within the whole process of transformation that is taking place in Medellin, Colombia's Interior Ministry declared "public disaster" in the Morro de Moravia, in 2006. From this statement it launched a comprehensive intervention project that looks at different stages of action: the relocation of its inhabitants, decontamination and recovery of Morro as public space. In this major project are participating investigators of the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC in Terrassa Campus as well as from the South Campus of Barcelona (Technical School of Architecture of Barcelona, ETSAB-UPC).

The first phase of the project, and the most urgent, was to relocate more than 10,000 people living in new homes built in other areas of the city. Currently, 75% of the residents of El Morro are already living in their new homes in neighborhoods equipped with all kinds of services, thanks to the integral intervention project. Whenever a barrack is abandoned, project leaders stick a flag with the color of the new neighborhood where the family has gone to live. The process was done in a participatory manner, in accordance with community members, which are the same who are responsible for seeing that evacuated areas are not re-invaded.

Decontaminate a landfill and turn it into a park.
The second phase of the integral intervention project involves the recovery of El Morro and treatment of many pollutants that are present. The intervention includes treatment of the leachate that was generated over the years (Leachate is the name given to the contaminant liquid that is originated with litter decomposition). For this, the municipality of Medellín counted on the experience and work of members of the Alpha network on Sustainable Technologies for Drinking and Wastewater Treatment (TECSPAR). Among the members of this network is included the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC, coordinated by Jordi Morato, director of the same chair and coordinator of the Sustainable Water Management of the UPC (AQUASOST).

Buffer strips more wetlands constructed.
These researchers are already working in the Morro to turn it into a park through natural techniques of treatment, as the combination of buffer strips and wetland construction. The buffer strips are strips of vegetation, imitating the fringes bordering the river channels. Its natural structure controls the air, soil and water quality, acts as filters of nutrients and pesticides, helps to keep the flow of these elements, and thus, reduces their arrival at the same channel. The constructed wetlands are low cost systems consisting of shallow channels where water circulates in the underground through a granular medium in contact with the roots of typical plants of natural wetlands. The water is purified through a combination of physical, chemical and especially biological phenomena.

  • The combination of the buffer strip with the construction of wetlands will treat some of the water that seeps through the waste accumulated over the years. Also, thanks to this combination it will be possible to capture filtered water so as to prevent and stop pollution of aquifers, groundwater and the generation of more leachate.

  • And all in an economical way, because these actions are low cost, with minimal after-care, they are made in a simple way, without energy consumption and they do not generate waste or odors and mosquitoes.

  • With financing from international agencies (Agència Catalana de Cooperació per al Desenvolupament (ACCD) and Agència Espanyola de Cooperació  Internacional per al Desenvolupament (AECI), the UPC researchers have designed a demonstration plant, which will apply these technologies in one zone of the Morro to be converted into a park. In this way they will help to reduce the transformation time of what once was a huge mountain of trash into a park with biodiversity.

Public park with Ecomuseum and Technology Center 
The third phase of the integral intervention project raises the Morro de Moravia tries to open and use this space for citizenship, making it a meeting and leisure place and a central axis of the improvement, not only the landscape and the environment improvement but also to strengthen peaceful coexistence in the area. And within the same area, they are planning to build a Ecomuseum, with the aim of disseminating the culture of sustainability, particularly in its social dimension from the experience of the displaced who arrived in the area. It is also expected to take the park's proximity to the University of Antioquia advantage to build a Scientific-Technological Center, which specializes in technologies for sustainable development.

The Botanical Garden of Barcelona was another 'Morro'
The city of Barcelona had a similar process of recovery from the Morro de Moravia. The Botanical Garden is located in the mountain of Montjuic, and that settles and grows where once there was a rubbish dump. Perhaps that is why the City of Barcelona also provides resources and expertise to the project in the city of Medellin.

Project members at UPC.

The construction project of the Morro de Moravia Park is coordinated by Jordi Morató, director of the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC.  Some researchers from the same Chair of the Group of Sustainable Water Management participate in this project, such as Alex Pires, Ángeles Ortiz, Ángel Gallegos, José Weisman and Alice Miranda. And other members of the chair related to the School of Architecture of Barcelona (ETSAB) from the UPC, coordinated by Professor Sandra Bestraten.


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