polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Water and Sanitation in Ecuador

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Water and sanitation has been recognized by all international development agencies as one of the main challenges in the developing world. Indeed, it is now explicitly assumed by all that the lack of adequate water and sanitation is a main contributor to the perpetuation of poverty. This problem affects directly one third of the world’s population. The lack of adequate water and sanitation has a deeply negative impact on human development in several ways. For instance, it is directly related to diarrheal diseases, the second main cause of infant mortality worldwide, only after malaria. It has also a deeply negative impact on women, as it typically causes burdening health and security problems. These impacts affect severely on social dignity and economic productivity, and keep hundreds of millions trapped in a poverty vicious circle.

This challenge was established as the target number 10 in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), to be met by 2015. In this context, the UN, development banks, governments and bilateral development agencies have embarked in numerous programs in many countries aimed at achieving such MDG target.

Since three weeks ago, I am involved with UN-HABITAT in a Water and Sanitation Program in Ecuador. This program is funded by Spain’s international development agency (AECID) with U$ 5.8 Million, and it aims to support the country’s government in achieving this MDG target. The program is being implemented by a partnership of several UN agencies (UN-Habitat, UNDP, WHO, ILO, UNV), the ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MIDUVI), the recently created Water National Secretariat (SENAGUA) and local governments and the communities that the program will be supporting.

This program is framed in the reform process started in the country with the new constitution, and a set of new laws that are on their way to being passed. One of such laws is aimed at regulating everything that is related to water, and it still is in the process of dialogue and negotiation. This is a particularly interesting context to work with, firstly because the recently voted constitution (one year old) stipulates that the use of water must follow an unusual order of priorities: human consumption, national food security, natural environment and economic production. Currently in Ecuador the bulk of water is used for export-oriented food plantations (Ecuador is the world’s main banana exporter), petroleum businesses and other polluting industries. Human consumption in towns and villages takes the small percentage that is left, which is largely unsafe water due to the lack of wastewater treatment, unmonitored industrial activities and large-scale plantations.

We expect to support Ecuador in succeeding in ensuring that all citizens have equal access to adequate water and sanitation in the near future, which should in turn reduce the levels of poverty in the country.

Credits: Image of the assembly discussing the Law on Water in Ecuador from senagua.gov.ec.