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    Rights and Responsibilities: Not Rights in a Vacuum

    The UN declared water and sanitation a human right yesterday.  Politically this is a big move. 

    A report from the UN is expected soon on the challenges facing the sector to implement this right.  This will be welcome, because the rights debate is complex, contentious and confusing at times. 

    For me it’s not about rights in isolation of responsibilities.  And importantly, few understand this better than Bolivia, whose Ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, was clearly a key role player in pushing this resolution through.  Bolivia takes the issue of rights and responsibilities seriously and our experience is they are applying it in practice. 

    In Bolivia, Water For People has formed an impressive coalition with Municipal Governments, communities, local NGO and private sector partners.  The former Mayor of the Municipality Villa G Villarroel (Cuchumuela) – David Velásquez – spearheaded an initiative to get every family, school and clinic within his Municipality covered with improved water supplies and sanitation.  The new mayor is continuing on with this effort.  The government is paying 50% of all hardware costs plus all the costs associated with Municipal oversight and support – staff, transport costs, etc.  Communities are co-financing their water schemes as well, with the balance in funding coming from Water For People.  We provide a bit of financial support to the Municipality as well, but the bulk of this program is being paid for by the Municipal Government.  They are the leaders, it is their program, Water For People is a catalyst but no projects are being laced with our logos!  It’s not our work.

    Cuchumuela is about to achieve its goals of full coverage in water supply.  Sanitation is understandably lagging – sanitation expansion is slower even with communities and organizations that value sanitation.  Our monitoring work showed that early sanitation efforts that focused on building latrines with subsidies was ineffective and undermined sanitation development anyway.  So we – government, communities, local partners and Water For People – needed to rethink our sanitation program, and new approaches are now being applied.     

    Seventy-seven percent of the area is metered so water wastage is being controlled.  Communities not only paid for their water systems up-front (in cash) but also pay tariffs to ensure water keeps flowing.  Bolivia is in many ways the darling of the anti-privatization movement but nobody we work with thinks water should be for free – a common mistake made by anti-privatization advocates.  Government and communities pay – not expecting a hand-out but taking control of their water supplies and their futures.

    Because of this, the Government and local communities are rightly getting the credit for tackling water poverty in Cuchumuela.  They are actively addressing their problems, not waiting for aid allocations from some distant foreign government.  They are not sitting on their hands and waiting for someone to give them their water rights, but taking responsibility – together – to solve their challenges. 

    Down-times are reducing so water is flowing.  Tariffs are designed to eventually replace their systems, hopefully eliminating their need for any support from external agencies in the future.  We have evidence of new households being connected to the water supply without any additional financial support from Water For People (combinations of family contributions and funds from tariffs managed by communities).  Water extensions as villages grow, without additional support from us, is a major goal!  Water quality is not great in some communities so this will need to be addressed over time. 

    Rights and responsibilities, not rights in a vacuum.  That is what we are learning from our work in Bolivia. 

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    • bolivia
    • nedbreslin
    • sanitation
    • water
    • sani-talk
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