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Optimising water management to reduce inequality

About the blog

Julián Suárez
Vice President of Sustainable Development at CAF.
  • Optimising water management to reduce inequality
    Amazon River, Bolivia.

Even though Latin America has one third of the water resources in the world, they are unevenly distributed in time and space. Given this situation, the growing demand for water resources in the region — essentially in urban settings — and the need to contribute to the sustainable development agenda of its member countries, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) has recently revised its water sector agenda to encourage solutions that promote integrated water resource management, based on the concept of water security.

Even though irrigation is the priority water use in Latin America, with 75% of the total use, the drinking water demand in urban areas is increasing, as a result of population growth and rapid urbanisation. Currently, 1 out of 4 residents in Latin American cities has no access to quality drinking water or sanitation. This exacerbates the vulnerability and social exclusion of the most disadvantaged population, and challenges the supply of a certain quantity and quality of water in urban centres.

The renewed strategy promotes safe access to drinking water and sanitation, contributes to the productive and sustainable development of countries through efficient water use, and supports reducing water pollution, preserving ecosystems, and protection against disasters caused by too little or too much water.

Currently, 1 out of 4 residents in Latin American cities have no access to quality drinking water and sanitation

In particular, the Water Agenda of the CAF comprises 5 specific objectives: (1) safe, efficient and sustainable access to water and sanitation services; (2) reducing water pollution and preserving ecosystems; (3) efficient and affordable access to rural irrigation for family farming; (4) development of water services for the agro-industry sectors and other productive uses; and (5) improving water governance and management.

With regard to the needs in Latin America related to the urban water cycle, the CAF has prioritised in its areas of work contributing to universal access and improving the quality of urban services. The institution wants to promote universal water access in homes, incorporating gender equity policies, guaranteeing that water is safe for human consumption, and ensuring service availability and continuity according to water management efficiency criteria.

Another area of work in the urban context deals with the need to increase the per cent of waste water that undergoes treatment in Latin America, a region where currently 30% of waste water receives treatment. The current situation is not only inefficient in terms of water resource management; also, discharging untreated waste water has a serious impact as a result of the pollution of water sources. This agenda, within the framework of a circular economy, also intends to contribute to restoring the quality of water bodies, promoting the reuse of treated water, and the recovery of by-products under a basin approach, where waste water, previously considered a waste, becomes a new resource.

The CAF has prioritised in its areas of work contributing to universal access and improving the quality of urban services

Not less important for the development of cities is the work that aims to control the risk of disasters caused by droughts or floods, based on encouraging structural and non-structural measures. The first ones would entail a better definition of construction techniques, and expanding and restoring water infrastructure. Non-structural measures would include the development and implementation of early warning systems in urban basins.

With the implementation of this renewed strategy for integrated water resources management, the CAF consolidates the services it provides to promote the sustainable development of Latin America.

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