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Fortaleza, flood, street, Cardoso
The 2018 World Water Forum is being held in Brazil. It is the opportunity to take stock of issues related to water and sanitation in Latin America. Maurice Bernard, AFD Director in Bogotá for the Andean area? gives an overview of the situation.

Maurice Bernard ChalpiOverall, Latin America does not lack water and itspopulation has access to basic water and sanitation services. Indeed, the continent provides an almost universalaccess to drinking water.

However, the continent is severely lagging behind in terms of wastewater treatment compared to other parts of the world. This is particularly problematic due to the fact that 75% of Latin
America’s population is urban and that the continent is home to a substantial proportion of global biodiversity: the lack of wastewater treatment in urban centres has an impact on the receiving
environments of this water.

Latin America is also particularly vulnerable to climate change due to the increase in periods of rainfall, which cause floods. The El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena caused by variations in temperature and currents in the Pacific Ocean exacerbate droughts in certain countries and increase rainfall in others.

In Latin America and the Caribbean 22% of the population used a safely managed sanitation facility in 2015

Source: Progress on drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene, 2017, WHO-Unicef

Besides this overall review, situations vary enormously from one Latin American country to another, as is also the case within countries. For example, Colombia constitutes a huge water reservoir.
There is good access to the service overall, but it remains insufficient in rural areas, while certain desert regions in the country are water-stressed. The quantity of water in the country’s Amazon region does not stop the resource from being scarce in the Guajira desert. In other words, overall diagnostics are not representative of local situations.

Unequal access to water also persists between rural and urban areas in all countries, from Mexico to Argentina. Chile is the only exception on the continent. This country is also a specific case in many
respects, as access to water resources is privatized and its level of development is similar to a European country.

In addition to urban population pressure and pressure from increasing water demand, access to water resources exacerbates tensions on the continent, particularly in regions where mining activities, which are major water consumers, are conducted alongside native populations who claim their right to water. These tensions are also set to increase due to climate change and growing demand.

Further reading