Oct 31, 2008

A chance to close the water and sanitation gap

Spain and the IDB team up to improve water coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean

As any marathon runner will tell you, the last mile can be the hardest to complete.

Water and sanitation specialists have their own definition of the “last mile.”  For them it means the final segment of water and sewer networks—the thin pipes that connect individual homes to water mains and drainage pipes buried under streets.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, after decades of effort, most governments have come very near to closing the gap in access to water and sanitation services. In a majority of the region’s cities, more than 80 percent of the population has a water connection in their home. A somewhat smaller percentage is connected to a sewer system.

But the fact remains that an estimated 85 million people in the region still lack a water connection in their homes, while 115 million live without decent sanitation. Millions of those who are connected to the network receive tainted water and endure many hours a day without sufficient water pressure. A vast informal infrastructure of water trucks and bulk bottled water vendors has sprung up to meet the needs of this population. And in some places, the push to finish the close the coverage gap has stalled.

For these families, the “last mile” has become an insurmountable obstacle, and the goal of decent water and sanitation services seems permanently out of reach.

In this context, the Spanish government has announced the first disbursement of the Fund for Cooperation in Water and Sanitation Cooperation. The Fund has pledged up to $1.5 billion in grants for Latin America over the next four years, starting with up to $450 million in 2008 (see press release at right). Rarely—if ever—has a donor nation pledge this much money in grant form for water projects in Latin American and the Caribbean.

Spain has agreed to partner with the IDB to identify, execute and evaluate projects that will be financed by the Fund. This will enable Spain to take advantage of the IDB’s deep expertise in this sector, its close relationship with governments throughout the region, and its broad portfolio of water and sanitation projects.

Spain has a record of supporting water and sanitation in its foreign aid and development programs. Spanish companies have also been among the most prominent investors in the Latin American and Caribbean infrastructure. In many cases, public-private partnerships involving Spanish investors have dramatically improved the quality of life of low-income people (See links at right, “The day water ran uphill” and “When a water meter is worth more than a house”)

The new Spanish Fund explicitly prioritizes projects that will benefit low-income communities, both urban and rural. It dovetails with the IDB’s own Water and Sanitation Initiative, which is lending as much as $1 billion per year to help finance projects in 100 cities and 3000 rural communities by 2011.

The critical mass of resources represented by these two initiatives offers a historic opportunity for Latin America to pick up the pace and finally close the gap in water and sanitation. 

More information

Fund for Cooperation for Water and Sanitation

Press Contact
Paul Constance
(202) 623-2572

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