Latin America and the Caribbean need investment, capacity building and advanced technologies to achieve universal access to clean water and sanitation

6 October, 2023

An article by Fernando Díaz, Infrastructure Department Director at Incatema, on the occasion of the Inter-American Water Day

Every first Saturday of October celebrates Inter-American Water Day, a date aimed at raising awareness about the importance of sustainable management of this vital resource in America.

According to data from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), there are significant gaps in this region when achieving universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Progress towards achieving SDG 6, focused on this goal, is slow, and in some cases, according ECLAC, trends are moving away from the expected results by 2030. Additionally, the region is vulnerable to the effects of climate change: it is prone to extreme weather events such as droughts and floods and experiences high levels of water stress.

Although Latin America and the Caribbean have made progress in access to clean water and basic sanitation in recent decades, significant inequalities persist: rural areas and marginalized communities face difficulties in accessing quality services. Another common issue is water pollution, mainly due to untreated wastewater discharge, intensive agriculture, and mining, posing risks to public health and the environment.

In this context, it is crucial to highlight the relevance of integrated water cycle infrastructures to ensure the availability of this finite resource and its safe access, a fundamental human right because it is essential for health, dignity, and quality livelihoods. These infrastructures must be resilient and adaptable to climate change.

Challenges in the implementation of water infrastructures

Despite the importance of these infrastructures, their implementation is costly and complex. It requires high financial investment, long-term planning, the adoption of advanced technologies with more efficient monitoring and treatment systems, human resource training, and efficient water resource management. Lack of funding is, therefore, one of the main barriers to development because substantial resources are needed to meet growing demand and maintain existing infrastructure, leading to the degradation of systems and basic services. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs.

At Incatema, we have been working in this region for over 25 years on various projects to provide safe drinking water to the population and to create adequate sanitation services through wastewater treatment plants, as we have done in Haiti and more recently in the Dominican Republic. This country, with a growing population and a strong tourism sector, faces significant challenges because, despite the abundance of water resources, some communities still have difficulties accessing clean water. This is the case in Santiago region, where we are expanding and modernizing Navarrete aqueduct by building a drinking water treatment plant that will serve seven municipalities, reaching over 150,000 people, a project of the National Institute of Potable Water and Sewerage (INAPA).

Investing in integrated water cycle infrastructure means investing in healthier and more prosperous future for all citizens. To achieve Sustainable Development Goal number 6 and ensure equitable and sustainable access to water and sanitation, international cooperation and the commitment of governments, businesses, and civil society are essential.