Debt default, a challenge for water management in Latin America

Puerto Morelos (Mexico), Dec 1 (EFE).- Reducing debt default and encouraging users of drinking water systems to pay fair rates in rural areas is one of the biggest challenges facing the public sector in Latin America, said Claudia Vera, general coordinator of the water and sanitation for rural and indigenous communities project at Paraguay’s National Environmental Sanitation Service (Senasa).

“Water is free and is a human right, but there is a cost of electricity, pipe maintenance and the pipes used to carry the water to homes and that is why users have to contribute,” explained Vera.

The Lazos de Agua project, which is being carried out in five Latin American countries, has provided investment of US$60 million in small, rural and indigenous communities and towns in Paraguay.

“Through Lazos de Agua we have reached 109 communities and 87 well water supply systems have been drilled, with distribution through networks so that rural communities have access to drinking water and chlorination units to ensure water quality,” said the project general coordinator.

Vera explained that in communities in Paraguay’s western region, where there is little access to water, important technological alternatives for rainwater catchment are deployed, while, in the eastern region, the main source of water is through drilling wells.

“While it seems logical or common sense, to maintain this you have to pay rates and you have to change behavior in rural regions. Many ask us ‘why do I pay for water if it is free and a human right,’ but there is a cost that users have to pay for.

“In these regions people pay the equivalent of $2 per month and have almost unlimited use. We are trying to get people to pay a rate so that it is sustainable and we also encourage the use of micrometers. Those who consume more should pay more, it is a fair policy”, she said.

Vera added that Paraguay is an agricultural and livestock farming country, in which if producers do not use micrometers for crops then they are making an indiscriminate use of treated water. “On the other hand, we have vulnerable people, the elderly, retired people who also pay two dollars, but consume much less.”

At work meetings at water utility services, complaints about the difficulties to collect from defaulters and the urgency to have fair tariffs are constant. This has led to the use of micrometers and social art strategies.

“We began to touch on this issue of rate payments, its importance through theater plays and murals that helped to empower the community, very beautiful murals that helped people feel proud of having done it because it is an integrating job that includes young people, adults and seniors,” she said.

Finally, Vera stressed that through these initiatives people went to take pictures in front of the murals and interact with the various proposals to raise awareness among communities and “suddenly the rate of payments increased.” EFE


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