The Water for Cities Program in Latin America and the Caribbean (WatSan-LAC)

In recent years a big effort has been made in the Latin America and Caribbean Region to achieve the MDG Target 7C: “To halve the population without access to water and basic sanitation”. This has led to important advances in water and sanitation service  provision.

The region has a population of approximately 593 million and is one of the most urbanized areas in the world. Urban dwellers surmounted 471 millions in 2010. Urban population increased from 71% in 1990 to 79.4% in 2010. Currently, megacities are home to most of the population, but the megacities’ rate of growth is now decreasing while small cities (ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 inhabitants) are expanding rapidly. In the developing world, urban expansion is often characterized by informality, illegality and unplanned settlements. Urban growth has been strongly associated with poverty and slum growth.

In the Latin America and the Caribbean region, the proportion of urban population lIving in slums has been reduced from 33.7% in 1990 to 23.5% in 2010. Proportions are declining, but numbers are growing: from 105 million slum dwellers in 1990, the region counts now with 110 million people leaving in slums. (Source: State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011, UNHABITAT) According to data from 2008, 93% of the population in the region had access to water service while 79% had access to basic sanitation services (JMP Monitoring Report 2010). Targets for the region in 2015 are 92% for water service provision and 84% for sanitation.

One can therefore conclude that the water target has been achieved, while sanitation is lagging behind. But there are many differences in services coverage between countries and regions, between urban and rural areas, and most importantly of all, between income groups.

Urban coverage for water and sanitation is very high in percentages (97% and 86% respectively for water and sanitation, 2008, JMP Report) compared to coverage in rural areas, these high percentages bring forward still 13 million urban dwellers do not have access to an improved water source while 62 million lack access to some kind of improved sanitation facility; compared to the 24 million and 55 million rural population without water and sanitation access respectively in the region.

Most countries have achieved target for water service in urban areas, except Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru and Republica Dominicana. Still, headline statistics do not reflect the quality of the provided services. Many problems in the region are related to water quality and the continuity of service, as well as water losses in an environment where there is increasing competition for water and the resource is not being managed in a sustainable manner. The sanitation access is extremely low in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti. But wastewater treatment is nearly invisible in the whole region, causing contamination of water bodies. Climate change is imposing new challenges and demanding new solutions for increasing service coverage.

Thus, the Latin American and the Caribbean Region urban scenario faces a set of complex problems that need complex solutions. The population urban growth in an unplanned manner increases the need for water and sanitation service provision in areas of difficult access, increasing at the same time problems caused by over-exploitation of resources and its contamination due in part to the lack of wastewater systems.

The Water for Cities Program in Latin America and the Caribbean (WatSan-LAC) is a regional operative initiative of WSTF created in response to the regional consultations undertaken during the Americas´ regional Preparatory Process and during the working sessions at the 4th World Water Forum, held in Mexico City, in March 2006.

The Program supports the following areas:

• Support central and local authorities in the pursuit of the water related MDGs;
• Support institutional development;
• Strengthening of water education and water culture, with special emphasis on themes related to public health, hygiene and water resources conservation;
• Support the institutionalization of a more participatory, transparent, and accountable water governance;
• Support the mainstreaming of water adaptation to climate change; and,
• Strengthening of water and sanitation operators



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