Interview with Sergio Campos, Water and Sanitation Division Chief, IDB

The Inter-American Development Bank is a Strategic Partner to the IWA Water and Development Congress,where we will showcase our work to advance the water and sanitation agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean. We strongly believe that adequate access to water and sanitation are central to our mission of improving lives in our region.

“The IDB has the ability to help governments to work across sectors like energy, agriculture and water,” said Campos. “When we are asked to provide assistance in different projects we look from different angles and we help the countries to avoid working in silos and in a more multisectoral way.“

Sergio Campos, Water and Sanitation Division chief at the Inter-American Development Bank

What are the regional trends for infrastructure development? Is it mega projects, or more decentralised solutions?

We have four main regional lines of work going on right now: access to water and sewage, wastewater treatment, rural water, and integrated water resource management. In terms of water and sanitation the challenge is to transition to smart water infrastructure like automatic metering and full automatisation and control of our systems through smart infrastructure.

Our region has made significant progress in terms of achieving access to safe water but if we apply the SDG criteria we’ll see that there are over 200 million people with non continuous service, not all water is potable. In terms of sanitation the main challenge is providing sanitation in peri urban areas and here, especially in the case of public utilities.

Not everything needs to be a conventional solution if we want to solve the issue of fecal sludge management. In the short term, options like condominial sewerage are among those our region needs to explore and consider. We have an initiative for optimal sanitation in which we try to implement different types of solution in order to address the needs of the population with secure and safe standards.

As for wastewater treatment, the key issue–especially for the areas with very little water–is reusing water, and for this we are promoting the adoption of circular economy models in the water and sanitation sector. In the case of integrated water resource management the key issue is the adoption of better technologies to conduct bette planning of the usage and allocation of our water resources. Technology is very important: we have an simulation modelling tool called HydroBID that has already mapped over 260 thousand water basins and their water availability. Why is this relevant? Because in Latin America 80 percent of the electricity comes from hydropower, 80 percent of our agriculture is rainfed, so we are highly dependent on our water resources and better planning will always yield better results.

How is IDB investing in watersheds and basins and how do you find the balance between biodiversity and economic development?

Our region is privileged in terms of water availability, we have one third of the global water resources and only eight percent of the world’s population. Hence, we have a tremendous potential to make gains from those water resources. We always try to strengthen the different aspects of watershed management, that is one of the biggest challenges that our region has. In addition, we need to emphasise good governance and institutionality, the legal framework and coordination among different stakeholders. A good example is the Latin America Water Funds Alliance, a public private partnership. It is a financing mechanism where we gather all sectors that have a heavy water footprint and that are interested in preserving our ecosystems. Here business meets science to come up with better practices to ensure that our watersheds are functioning well, this include watershed protection and conservation, changing patterns of agricultural production, reforestation. This has been a very successful initiative. We have been able to strengthen 22 funds in the region, benefitiating around 60 million people and leveraging more than US$120 million.

What are three success stories of the IDB in the water and sanitation sector?

We have many, but if we had to name the top three I would name the support we provided to SABESP (Company of Basic Sanitation of Sao Paulo) for the cleaning of the Tiete river, where we have invested more than one billion US dollars in over fifteen years. We have worked for over 35 years with the Public Enterprises of Medellín (EPM) (Colombia) in the cleaning of the Aburra river; we started with a master plan so all of the investments have been done in a very orderly way for water and sewage and then on to wastewater treatment, the latest phase that they are undergoing right now and that will allow them to treat nearly 99 percent of all of their wastewater. Another great project is the sanitation of the Montevideo Bay, in Uruguay where we have been working for almost 20 years with a master plan that determined a number of sequential investments that have resulted in a very successful outcome. Residents of Montevideo can now swim in its waters and enjoy the bay as an integral part of their environment.

Where can IDB enhance water security in ways that it could be difficult for the private sector or other development banks working in Latin America and the Caribbean to do so?

The IDB has the ability to help governments to work across sectors like energy, agriculture and water. When we are asked to provide assistance in different projects we look from different angles and we help the countries to avoid working in silos and in a more multisectorial way. The other area we emphasise is to leapfrog into technology. I have already mentioned HydroBID, a tool that allows us to do strategic planning through the use of rainfall data and calculations and digital maps of hundreds of thousands of water basins in the region. The main goal is to have a more holistic and comprehensive approach for water and sanitation in our region.

How is the IDB using the SDG framework for its water and sanitation portfolio?

There is international consensus that if we don’t comply with SDG 6 probably none of the other SDGs will be met. A great example of tools and initiatives that contribute to the 2030 Agenda is AquaRating, that the IDB has developed together with the International Water Association (IWA). AquaRating makes a significant contribution to improving utility performance and a roadmap to anticipate future challenges. The rating system allows for better planning and decision making processes for the utilities’ management to achieve sustainable and efficient outcomes. AquaRating is an international standard that enables water and sanitation operators to focus on the quality of the service they are providing.

As a standard, AquaRating sets the baseline for utilities to monitor their performance and plan for improvements. AquaRating offers a comprehensive, impartial and credible evaluation of the utilities’ performance and best management practices, based on three dimensions: (i) performance indicators; (ii) best practices; and (iii) reliability of information. The AquaRating system gives a detailed evaluation of 112 elements across eight key areas and validates information through an independent auditing process, enhancing accountability and transparency. The evaluation system has been tested in 13 utilities in 2014 in nine countries in Europe and Latin America and is currently being implemented through individual operators in Ecuador, El Salvador, Argentina and Spain and through government and financial institutions in Peru, Colombia and Mexico, Sierra Leone and Fiji.