Perspectives… on prospects for Latin America’s water and sanitation

IWA’s increasing activity in the Latin America region, supported by the the IWA Secretariat’s work on water policy and regulation, has included working with regulators, running and participating in workshops and conference sessions, and promoting policy guidance such as the IWA Manual on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation for Practitioners and its translated versions. Here we gather a selection of views from across the region about some of the needs and opportunities for achieving water and sanitation progress.


The need for federal direction

Oscar Hugo Pintos, President of AFERAS, Argentina’s Federal Association of Drinking Water and Sanitation Regulators, and President of ADERASA, the Association of Drinking Water and Sanitation Regulators of the Americas

Argentina is a federal country, and this creates special features in terms of water and sanitation services. From 1912, these services were mostly provided by a single national company, Sanitary Works of the Nation (OSN). In 1980, the last military government decentralised the OSN services so that they became dependent on the provinces (and in some areas on the municipalities). As a result, currently there are 24 jurisdictions that, in the area of water and sanitation services, act independently of each other and the national state.

For this reason and from the point of view of governance, the greatest water and sanitation challenge for Argentina is the jurisdictional articulation of policies for the sector. These policies are needed to define a common course, and set priorities for the expansion and improvement of services.

Given this need, AFERAS has for several years been promoting the enactment of a Federal Law on Water and Sanitation Services. The aim for this would be to generate an institutional architecture for the definition of guiding principles and state policies, in a federal space for dialogue and agreement between the provinces and the nation.

The reconfiguration of the institutional system of the sector should now be a priority, given the national and international commitments that Argentina has assumed in order to guarantee the effective realisation of human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, and to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – in particular SDG 6 – with their 2030 deadline. In this process, the exchange of information and experiences with other countries will be essential to improve such legislative proposals.


In search of universal services

Paulo Salles, Director-President Adasa – Federal District Regulatory Agency for Water, Energy and Basic Sanitation, Brazil

Vanessa Fernanda Schmitt, Board of Directors Advisor, Adasa

Water resources in Brazil are unevenly distributed: most of the water is in the North, which has the smallest portion of the population, while the majority of the population, distributed in the Southeast and Northeast, has low water availability. Another feature is that only 46% of the total sewage generated by the population undergoes treatment (National Sanitation Information System – SNIS, 2017).

One of the biggest challenges for the country is to overcome regional inequalities with regard to sanitation: while access to sewage collection serves only 20.3% of households in the North and 45.1% in the Northeast, the percentage in the Southeast region is 88.9% (SNIS, 2017).

Currently the National Congress is discussing changes to the basic legislation for the sector (water, sewage, solid waste and drainage). The incorporation of this in political decisions, together with the guarantee of public and private investment and the strengthening of regulation through the standardisation of regulatory principles, may bring these services to the most vulnerable areas of the country. It is estimated that investments of around $150bn would be required to universalise these services in Brazil by 2035.

In this scenario, the Federal District stands out, with urban sewage collection at 85.1%, and treatment of all sewage before return to water bodies. The Regulatory Agency for Water, Energy and Sanitation of the Federal District (Adasa) is the regulatory body for water, sewage, drainage and solid waste services. It has explored different mechanisms for regulatory governance, such as regulatory impact analysis, payment for environmental services, negotiated water allocation, and social and contingency tariffs, supported by meteorological and hydrological monitoring and quality and quantity indicators.

Adasa has also been expanding its interaction with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, offering the possibility of exchanging experiences and good practices, through technology transfer and expertise.


A stronger legal framework

Hugo Rojas Silva, Director General, ANEAS – National Association of Water and Sanitation Companies

The situation in Mexico with respect to UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 is that the country has not fulfilled SDG 6’s objective of guaranteeing good quality services.

The most important challenge in relation to water supply and sanitation in Mexico is undoubtedly the financial sustainability of the water sector, in order to allow fulfilment of the human rights to water and sanitation. This means it is necessary to achieve financial sustainability of the operating agencies. In this context, it is important to highlight issues such as the national increase in electricity tariffs by approximately 60% affecting operating agencies from 2018 to 2019.

The sector in Mexico includes Conagua, the National Commission on Water. However, according to Article 115 of the Constitution, provision of water and sanitation services is a municipal benefit. This means Conagua does not have the powers to regulate service provision. Therefore, Mexico lacks the legal mechanism to regulate these services.

For these reasons, there is a need for changes through a General Water Law, in addition to a series of modifications in the country’s financial legislation. ANEAS has actively participated in the proposal and preparation of different legal initiatives, but these are still pending. Enacting a new General Water Law would enable progress and accountability in the fulfilment of SDG 6.

Alongside this activity, in 2019 ANEAS progressed with the training of the operating agencies through the Water School programme that works in conjunction with Conagua to improve the professional status of more than 2000 workers in the sector through 16 courses. In addition, one of the permanent tasks of ANEAS is to link the country’s water operating agencies with experts, academics, and national and international institutions.

ANEAS has long experience in connecting Mexico through partnerships that allow sharing of success stories in Latin American countries. It is important to highlight that such actions have brought tangible benefits, while always recognising the differences in the legal and political character of each country.


Reversing the fragmentation

Iván Lucich Larrauri, Executive President, SUNASS – National Superintendent of Sanitation Services

The quality of drinking water and sanitation services in Peru is very uneven between urban, peri-urban and rural areas. This inequality cannot be reduced as long as the fragmentation of service provision continues. Fragmentation contributes to the deterioration of the quality of the services and efforts to increase provision. In the urban sphere, there are 50 municipal utilities (EPS) in 24 regions, with 212 municipalities directly serving 1.4 million people in small cities. However, in rural areas, 24,531 Water and Sanitation Administrative Boards operate for a population of 7 million inhabitants.

The great challenge facing the sector is the question of how to achieve the grouping of providers to take advantage of economies of scale, and to optimise technical assistance and the allocation of public financing. To enable the grouping of providers, SUNASS, as the regulatory body, has the function of configuring the area of potential provision of sanitation services, while promoting citizen participation in the identification of service quality and assessing capacity of the providers to offer the levels of quality required by the users.

In Cusco, Abancay, and other regions of Peru, the areas of service provision have been determined. This has been done based on the identification of links established by companies with communal organisations, their sources and discharge destinations. This includes a remuneration mechanism for ecosystem services, incorporated in the water rate, that allows not only conservation of water sources, but also improvement of the sanitation services of the communities, integrating the rural area into the urban area. This strategy should be complemented by the development of projects to expand and improve the sanitation systems of the municipal utilities (EPS) that include a conservation and restoration component for the ecosystems that support them.

Private sector

Combining the public sector, technology, and shared risk

Jordi Valls, CEO Suez Latin America – North

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide us with a long-term schedule to accomplish the targets they contain. We must include in this schedule the resilience of systems in anticipation of the effects of climate change. This schedule will allow us to work cooperatively with public authorities responsible for the performance of water and water treatment services, with the private sector able to provide experience (know-how), technology and new capabilities to allow a focus on the efficiency of systems that in some cases suffer losses of more than 40%.

The effects of climate change demand drastic solutions around the creation of alternative water sources, especially in areas and countries such as Chile or Mexico that cover zones of extreme climate diversity. However, the main goal in this decade must be the improvement of efficiency in water and water treatment services. The blending of capital, companies providing the proper technology, and the regulation of public authorities can determine a successful alliance in order to fulfil SDG 6.

Today, governments have sought to involve the private sector in the development and management of their water systems. Financing the achievement of the SDG targets for water and sanitation in developing countries requires substantial investment. As the OECD has suggested in relation to water policies, both additional funding and more efficient use of available resources are necessary.

In order to meet these tremendous needs, most developing countries must involve the private sector to varying degrees and to achieve various objectives, as a source of financing and/or to improve efficiency in service delivery, reduce costs, contribute to long-term sustainability, and encourage technology transfer. Risk-sharing arrangements are becoming increasingly context-specific, and so are becoming a good choice for long-term projects.


For more information, please contact Ms Carolina Latorre,, IWA Water Policy and Regulation lead.