Water Management and Sanitation for Dispersed Rural and Indigenous Communities in Latin America

March 17, 2019
Challenge Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay struggle with similar water and sanitation challenges. In Nicaragua, less than 20 per cent of people living in the northern and southern autonomous administrative regions, home to many indigenous communities, have access to drinking water and adequate sanitation. In Panama, 91 per cent of the indigenous population in the Ngöbe-Buglé region suffers from extreme poverty, and its dispersion, mobility and location in remote areas raise the cost of traditional sanitation solutions, limiting investment and private participation. In Paraguay, only half of the poorest households have drinkable water, and only 10 per cent of all sewage is treated. Only 6 per cent of households in indigenous communities have drinking water, and only 3 per cent have access to sanitation. Towards a Solution From 2011 to 2014, the United Nations Joint Programme on Water and Sanitation for Dispersed Rural and Indigenous Communities in Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay sought to tackle these challenge head-on by organizing a series of knowledge-sharing events to strengthen labour-based techniques and rights. The aim was to empower rural and indigenous populations to manage their own water resources and improve the quality of and access to public water and sanitation services. The project, developed under the MDG Fund thematic window for democratic economic governance, included exchanges of experiences by rural and indigenous communities. The meetings focused on three main topics: (a) technical capacity-building in construction and maintenance to enable communities to participate in the local labour market (Nicaragua); (b) coordination and empowerment through the management of water systems and sanitation (Panama); and (c) planning and consultation with indigenous communities as a way for communities to identify and prioritize local knowledge on water provision (Paraguay). The target groups were the Miskito and Afro descendants from Nicaragua, the Ngöbe Buglé from Panama and the Guaraní from Paraguay. The programme pursued a participatory approach to share community-based experiences and discuss technical issues, incorporating a gender and intercultural approach throughout the project cycle. As a South-South learning initiative, the participation of key leaders, technical actors and project coordinators helped to identify strengths and weaknesses at different stages of project development. The initiative helped to establish social dialogue at the community and inter-agency levels. It was effective in creating local ownership, greater participation by indigenous communities and women’s leadership, and it promoted knowledge and awareness-raising about water management gaps and strategies. The participatory workshops addressed the process of consultation for indigenous communities (based on free, prior and informed consent), respecting their hierarchies and perception of time. The initiative incorporated indigenous knowledge, using biological indicators to identify sources of drinkable water (a combination of empirical expertise and construction techniques) and raised awareness of women’s domestic role in water collection. In Panama, four microenterprises were created to maintain infrastructure services. At the political level, the testimony of women leaders from other countries encouraged their peers and traditional leaders to incorporate women as leaders of water management associations. This programme highlights indigenous knowledge and gender empowerment during project implementation to access quality public services. It is an entry point for the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, incorporating consultation as a project activity (Paraguay); enhancing local capacities by developing local units and small contractors for maintenance of public works with appropriate technologies (Nicaragua); and highlighting women’s leadership and the integrated management of local and traditional authorities and doctors in local administrative bureaux (Panama). It also contributed to positioning ILO methodologies for employment, inclusion and rights promotion of indigenous people within the United Nations inter-agency partners. During the workshops, the experience from Panama provided a basis to better understand the way in which local administrative management bureaux – comprised of local and traditional authorities and doctors – had promoted the establishment of a water-quality monitoring programme. The debate also pointed out that while Guaraní indigenous communities face the challenge of storing and managing drinkable water, the Caribbean subregion faced problems in managing and distributing quality water. Both needed to strengthen their local administrative units for water provision. Since the Ngöbe-Buglé region of Panama suffers from extreme poverty, women leaders explained the level of negotiation that indigenous leaders were pursuing with national authorities to express local requirements for quality public services. The programme in Nicaragua put more emphasis on the organization of local units and small contractors for maintenance of public works with appropriate technologies. Moreover, it demonstrated the development of apprenticeships for entrepreneurial builders in which 70 young men and women from Miskito and Afro-descendant communities were trained and certified in construction and plumbing. Programme replication hinges on empowering rural and indigenous communities. The initiative enables them to manage their own natural resources to ensure a supply of potable water and sanitation by using an intercultural, gender-based approach that can be applied in and adapted to different settings. In addition, national counterpart organizations are improving both their central and local institutional capacities in order to provide efficient basic services to communities suffering from extreme poverty and to ensure the sustainability of project outcomes. Beneficiaries, target group and users include leaders from the communities of Kankintu and Kusapin and local government authorities in Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, Ño Kribo region (Panama); Ayoreo, Nivaclé, Guaraní Occidental and Abaí Guaraní indigenous leaders and local government authorities from the Boquerón department (Paraguay); and the Miskito and Afro-descendant communities and local government authorities of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) (Nicaragua). Partners include ILO as one of the main United Nations implementing organizations, indigenous communities, national institutions, and the national water authorities and health ministries of each country. Sustainable Development Goal targets: 6.1, 6.b, 8.3 Countries / territories involved: Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay Supported by: Spain and target countries Implementing entity: ILO Project status: Closed Project period: 2011 – 2014 URL of the practiceg: http://www.ilo.org/pardev/partnerships/south-south/WCMS_244336/lang–en/index.htm Contact: Employment-Intensive Investment Unit (EMP/INVEST) ; gutierrezm@ilo.or