polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Clean Water and Sanitation in Ecuador

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

A child in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, collecting water from an informal source. Source: La Hora

Since November 2009, I have been involved in a United Nations international development cooperation program in Ecuador aimed at improving governance of the country's water and sanitation sector and integrated management of its watersheds. The program is supporting three ministries amid democratic reform in Ecuador since a new constitution was passed in 2008, which stipulated that safe water and sanitation are a fundamental human right.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the program is interventions supporting community-led improvements in water and sanitation services. These interventions are in about 50 communities that had a weak state presence and deficient or non-existent water and sanitation services. The program involves collaboration among the three ministries implementing the program, municipalities, community-run water utilities and civil society organizations. Although the program was designed to involve all these organizations, it did not explicitly include this integrated approach; instead, the approach was developed as a learning process, which makes it more valuable.

Each of the interventions has its own character, as it responds to the needs expressed by each community. In general, interventions have an infrastructure component that has two purposes: improving service quality and generating motivation for community participation. The accompanying actions include capacity building for the community-run utility and the municipal civil servants that provide technical assistance; support for leadership of women; hygiene and environmental education campaigns led by youth "eco-clubs" created with our support; monitoring the quality of drinking water; putting the participation mechanisms defined in Ecuador's Citizen Participation Law into practice; and protecting water sources. Some of the interventions have been designed as permaculture.

An "eco-club" created by the program organized a campaign around Handwashing Day in 2011. Source: Roberto Ponce

Traditionally, these actions were undertaken without any coordination and often fell flat. The integrated approach ensures that all efforts have a long-lasting impact and generate a habit of collaborative work among the organizations involved. The program has not yet concluded and is still in the process of consolidating the positive effects of the interventions, but it has already attracted attention among many in the sector who approach us seeking collaboration or advice.

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