Water for Informal Settlements in Latin American Cities

It is generally assumed that urban populations are healthier, more literate and more prosperous than rural populations. Approximately half the world's population - 3 billion people -- lives in urban areas, among them, almost one billion are desperately poor and live in slums without even the most basic services like sustainable sanitation. In 1950, only 29 percent of people lived in urban areas, but by 2010, 51 percent will live in cities. The trend towards urban living is particularly acute in developing countries.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the urban population will increase from 42 per cent to 79 percent during the same time period. The rapid urbanization goes hand-in-hand with even faster development of shanty towns, favelas or pueblos jovenes in all cities in the region. 120 million urban dwellers in the region representing 30 percent of the urban population lack adequate water. Those without adequate sanitation number as many as 150 million, or 40 percent of the urban population.

The lack of clean water and sanitation has a direct impact on health and labor productivity. In 1991 when Lima, Peru, suffered from cholera epidemic, apart from thousands of deaths, there was a devastating economic impact. The Peruvian economy lost US $28 million from cancelled exports and US $147 million from loss of tourist earnings, not to mention the additional costs of patient care and the loss of income to those employed in the informal sector. The net loss to the Peruvian economy was around US $2332 million in just one year.

Given the tremendous need to improve WSS services in low-income urban areas, WSP organized together with the Public Enterprises of Medellin (EPPM) an international workshop on water supply and sanitation for urban poor in Medellin, Colombia, on September 7-9. The main aim of the workshop was to share key learning from a field study of different arrangements to provide water and sanitation services to poor people in seven Latin American cities. The cities selected for the diversity that they bring to the study include: Arequipa and Lima (Peru), Guayaquil (Ecuador), Managua (Nicaragua), Medellin (Colombia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia) and Tegucigalpa (Honduras). Around 100 participants from different countries, among them government officials, sector professionals from the international cooperation and water utilities, and representatives of civil society came together to agree on action plans to face WSS challenges in peri-urban areas and discuss findings of the study, which are based on detailed case studies of each city’s institutional, financial, social and technical arrangements for basic service delivery in low-income urban areas.

The study together with the workshop aimed to promote collaboration links between the national and municipal actors in each country in order to share experiences and lessons and to further enhance the generation of new ideas to solve the critical situation of Latin American slums. The objective was also to establish a Latin American network focusing on WSS issues in the urban areas.

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