- Veronica’s scent
- BBC News World, Southern Cone
There is no more vital resource for humans than water. However, access to these precious assets today is highly unfair.
According to the United Nations (UN), today a quarter of humanity does not have access to a safe source of water.
They are the world’s poorest. That is, in general, Access to water is determined by economic capacity.
The richer the country, the wider its coverage network. And in developing or underdeveloped countries, the richest population owns more water than the poorest, and the urban population more than the rural population.
But this does not happen everywhere. There is one country in particular that exemplifies that you don’t have to be rich to be able to provide water equally to the entire population.
In this note, we explain how Paraguaya small Mediterranean country located between Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, was able to ensure universal access to water for its inhabitants, with a more equitable distribution than that of the richest countries in the region.
“a matter of management”
Part of the problem with access to water has to do with the fact that it is a scarce commodity.
Although our planet contains more water than Earth, more than 97% of the water is salty, which is unfit for human consumption or irrigation.
And of that 3% of fresh water, two-thirds of it freezes, either in glaciers or ice.
This means that approximately 8 billion people on the planet depend either on very few sources of non-saline surface water (lakes, swamps, and rivers, which represent less than 1% of all fresh water) or on underground waterIt is our main source.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Groundwater supplies half of the water used by households worldwide, a quarter of the water used for agricultural irrigation and a third of the water supply. Water for industry.”
But to take advantage of this underground resource – in the places where it is – equipment and investments are required, and to bring it home, a distribution network must be built.
This is why the human factor is key to explaining the inequalities that exist in access to water.
Today’s global water crisis Primarily a management issue and not the availability of resources,” recently confirmed by the UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Luis Felipe López-Calva.
“Water is a basic service and a human right that states must guarantee on an equal basis to all citizens, regardless of where they reside in the territory or how much they can pay for the service,” he said.
Lopez-Calva denounced that “in Latin America and the Caribbean, as in much of the world, access to water still exists.” very uneven“.
But he stressed that “these disparities are not inevitable,” and For example, Paraguay was cited.
He noted that the fifteenth economy in Latin America enjoys “almost universal coverage of access to drinking water.”
But he said Paraguay’s advantages do not end there. Compared to other Latin American countries that also guarantee a basic service to almost all of their residents, such as Chile, Mexico and Uruguay, this South American country stands out for being the country that distributes water more evenly.
“In Paraguay, there is less than a two-percentage-point difference in access to water between rural/urban areas or between richer/poorer groups,” said the UNDP official.
This makes it the state in the region with More equitable access to water.
And not just from the region. Paraguay has also been recognized by the non-governmental organization Water Aid for being one of the countries in the world that has increased water distribution in rural areas the most.
At the beginning of this century, about half of the population of these regions had access to this precious resource, which is a number today double.
A Water Aid spokeswoman told BBC Mundo that according to the latest figures collected in 2020 by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene, the 99.6% of Paraguay’s population They have at least “basic access” to water.
Engineer Sara Lopez, the person most responsible for ensuring access to drinking water in the country, explained that the key to success was a law enacted 50 years ago by the then de-facto government led by Alfredo Stroessner.
Law 369 of 1972 established the body that Lopez directs today: Paraguay’s National Environmental Sanitation Service (Sinasa).
But it is not the typical government agency responsible for water distribution.
Because the same law was implemented a A new decentralized community model in water managementCreate a new character: sewage boardswho receive technical assistance and training from SINASA.
“They are community organizations made up of residents of each area, and they are the ones who operate and maintain the water systems,” Lopez told BBC Mundo.
The official estimated that Paraguay is currently working in some 4000 sewage panelsranging from the smallest in the smallest cities to the largest, and is responsible for bringing water to up to 50,000 residents.
There are also another 1,000 Sanitation Committees, defined as community groups that have not yet attained the legal status granted by the Ministry of Public Health and Welfare, on which Senasa depends.
Another feature of the Water Act is that it placed the body responsible for overseeing the distribution of this precious resource under the orbit of that wallet, since access to a safe water source, according to Lopez, is topic “preventive health”.
Lopez explained that boards consist of only five people: a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and member, who are elected through a constituent assembly.
“They work honorably and do not receive a salary or daily allowance, and they are replaced every five years,” he said.
however, operates as a trading company, Employing operators, administrators, technicians and plumbers” among others.
These professionals earn a salary that is derived from the prices charged for water.
“There is a basic rate of basic monthly consumption, which is 12,000 to 15,000 liters per month, and whoever uses more pays more,” the official said.
As for prices, “the first price is determined with the help of Cinasa, but later on all the association sets the prices.”
Lopez comments that “Water is cheap in Paraguay”where an average of $3 is paid for 12,000 liters.
How is water obtained?
“The sewage boards can operate the systems because they are simple,” the official explained.
“A well of 150 meters or less is drilled, and the water is pumped to a high reservoir, where it is distributed by gravity. It does not need any other type of pumping,” he says.
Drilling is in charge of Cinasa, which usually supplies the water tanks.
“The system is easy to operate and maintain for highly qualified persons.
Like the water that comes out of a well good qualityThe only thing we ask is to purge the system.”
For his part, Walter Godoy, Project Assistant to Cinasa, explained to BBC Mundo that The state finances 82% of the businesswhile communities provide the rest.
“15% of the community costs are the labor needed to install the pipes and the ground in which they are installed, and only 3% is paid in cash, which equates to between $70 and $100,” he said.
In indigenous communities, 100% financial state of business.”
This virtuous communal system, which takes advantage of the availability of groundwater, allowed Paraguay Double Have safe water in a few decades.
“In 1990 we had 50% coverage of the country, but with this model we were able to quickly and aggressively increase coverage throughout the republic,” Lopez says.
“If we compare this increase with that of other countries, Paraguay stands out One of the most improved countries in the worldLopez Calva, of the United Nations Development Programme, highlighted it.
“This change is not the result of a Sudden increase in the amount of water available in the country, but as a result of intentional investments to improve water management.”
What is missing
Although the sewage boards system has allowed Paraguay to bring water to almost all of its residents, there is a small sector that is still left out, Sinasa’s general manager admits.
“In the eastern region of the country, where 97 percent of the population lives, there is an abundance of groundwater and there is the most vulnerable and dispersed population covered, but in Paraguay’s Chaco region, in the east, there are many indigenous communities, some of which are 200,000 people, and there is a source more difficulty due to Ground water is salty“, It is to explain.
For this reason, the main source of water there is rainwater harvesting, a process that has been made difficult by the severe drought that the region has experienced in the past two years.
“I think that in the Chaco we are not reaching the poorest population, at least not in a sustainable way, because we have arrived, but after a while we must return,” the official lamented.
“this is It is an outstanding issueWhere we have to do more.”
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