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The political shift in Latin America and how it can affect water management

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Andrés Martínez
University Professor and Researcher. Thesis in Water Management and Local Governments of Ecuador. #WaterLaw #Watergovernance #LocalGovernment
  • The political shift in Latin America and how it can affect water management

If we coloured the continents in a huge world map, we would surely use green and blue to colour South America. We would choose green because the region is home to important mega-diversity areas, and blue because water resource availability is three fold the global average (22,929 cubic metres per person per year).

However, with regards to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), there are differences within the continent. North America is close to achieving basic universal access to drinking water, whereas Latin America and the Caribbean are on their way to achieving this target in 2030.

This raises a question: can the political changes in the region affect water management in the region? The answer could be yes, because it depends on how national budgets are administered in order to build infrastructure that ensures access to water (availability), as well as on the models adopted by authorities, so that, even though there may be access, the tariffs charged for the service have to allow the most vulnerable population to afford it (affordability).

The last decade can be used as an example to understand how contrasting ideologies and management models can affect the provision of basic services, such as water, in the region.

The arrival of Colonel Hugo Chávez to Venezuela, the Kirchner couple (Néstor and Cristina Fernández) in Argentina, the strength of Lula in Brazil, the presence of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and the permanence of Ortega in Nicaragua, set the region in a progressive wave, with the slogan '21st century socialism'. Thanks to significant oil revenues, central governments built important infrastructure, leaving aside private sector investment.

However, the countries that joined this current opened up possibilities for the construction and exploitation of non-renewable natural resources (mining), a situation that led to some problems, particularly at the social level with indigenous communities, with regards to water governance.

Latin America and the Caribbean still require major economic resources to build infrastructure in the area of drinking water and sanitation

Even though infrastructure to improve access to drinking water was built, in many countries, the systems were not designed in a way that allowed economically sustainable management. This situation has been noted by the international organisations that funded the construction works.

Nevertheless, American politics are not free from ups and downs, and the '21st century socialism' drifted away, with some countries shifting to right wing politics — Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil — adopting concepts and strategies that affect government policy, and in turn, water resource management.

Beyond ideologies and politics, the truth is that Latin America and the Caribbean still require major economic resources to build infrastructure in the area of drinking water and sanitation, and, given the externalities (the price of oil and commodities), the States cannot directly assume those investments.

Therefore, looking to the private sector for investment is an option, even though many politicians still see in this strategy a 'shadow' of the privatisations done in the 90s.

Thus, the new vision should focus on considering the private and business sector as a strategic partner that participates in the investment process jointly with the State, a win-win proposal, following models such as public private partnerships (PPP). It is an option to protect investments from externalities and politics' ups and downs, and to ensure that the infrastructure that enables achieving access to safe water for all in 2030 is built.


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