120 mn in Latin America lack access to potable water


Foz do Iguacu (Brazil) : About 120 million people lack access to potable water and basic health services in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to figures released here at the second Latin American Sanitation Conference.

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The head of the Water and Sanitation Division at the Inter-American Development Bank, Federico Basanes, Monday said that, given those numbers, the UN Millennium Development Goals are not sufficient to confront the current conditions in the region.

“In Latin America, the cities are growing rapidly. Therefore, the objective should go much farther than the Millennium Development Goals,” Basanes said.

He added that just 20 percent of the region’s waste water is treated before being expelled, a situation that causes “a big impact” on human health and the environment.

With an investment of a little less than $2 billion in 2009 in Latin America, the IDB is scheduled to allocate $6 billion more over the next five years to the region, half of which will be devoted to sanitation projects, the bank official said.

Basanes also emphasised the difficulty in getting investments in sanitation services because of the fact that the majority of projects do not have a short-term time frame.

“This sector requires very long-term investments, of 25, 30 or 35 years, and it’s difficult to find investment. We must guarantee the sustainability of these types of investments,” he said.

The World Bank’s vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Pamela Cox, said that she felt the region has moved forward in comparison with other areas of the world with results that she called “promising”.

Cox emphasised the cases of countries like Paraguay, with 100 percent sanitation coverage, or Mexico, which improved its coverage by almost 30 percent since the 1990s and has extended sanitation services to 80 percent of its population.

She cited World Bank data showing that in the last three years more than 20 million people obtained access to improved sanitation services in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is predicted, she added, that coverage will reach 84 percent of the public in the region within the next five years.

The representatives of Spain’s Aecid development agency, Natalia Gullon, said that the current situation “is a challenge but also an opportunity”.

So far, the Spanish government’s dedicated fund has invested $900 million in 46 projects to create potable water and establish sanitation services distributed throughout almost all the countries of Latin America, and it expects to invest another $600 million over the next two years.

The conference, which is discussing the universalization and sustainability of sanitation services, will run until Thursday in Fox do Iguacu, near the famous Iguazu Falls.

The meeting is the continuation of the first such conference celebrated three years ago in Cali, Colombia.