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OUTLOOK 2016: How LatAm can meet the Sustainable Development Goals

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, December 31, 2015

Governments in 2016 will begin implementing a set of new development targets known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to go even further than the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000-15. 

Born out of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, the 17 SDGs are designed to address hunger and poverty, access to affordable energy, sustainable infrastructure, climate change, and "ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all," according to the UN. 

Global leaders are committed to fully implementing the SDGs by 2030. 

SDG No. 6, concerning water and sanitation, is exceedingly important in Latin America, as the region holds around 33% of the world's freshwater resources. 

Protecting and rehabilitating freshwater bodies, enhancing intergovernmental cooperation, increasing wastewater treatment infrastructure, and building and improving efficiency in water and sewerage systems will be significantly important for Latin America in the SDG era. 


From 1990 and through the implementation of the MDGs, Latin America and the Caribbean was able to provide access to improved drinking water sources to approximately 95% of its population, while 83% had access to improved sanitation facilities, up from 85% and 67%, respectively.

Currently, though, AF says 60mn residents in the region lack access to potable water and 100mn do not have proper sewerage systems. Moreover, as much as 25% of Latin America's population in urban areas still lack or receive deficient water services.  


Multilateral development banks will play a pivotal role shaping Latin America's water and sanitation infrastructure. 

The World Bank, IDB, and Latin American development bank CAF are providing regional governments with the technical expertise and capacity building tools needed to manage the complex and interrelated facets of water management, as water is not only essential for human well-being but also for irrigation, manufacturing, commodity extraction, and hydroelectric energy generation.  

CAF has estimated that in order for Latin America to reach universal access to water by 2030, the region must invest around 0.3% of its GDP per year. It also suggests investing an additional 0.4% on maintenance. 

Estimates are that in Latin America as much as US$12.5bn should be invested per year in water and sanitation, where current levels are around US$4.5bn per year, CAF said.   

The economic benefits would clearly outweigh the costs, as in Colombia, for instance, poor water quality is estimated to cost the country around 1% of GDP per year.  


The subsequent recommendations are formulated based on publications from CAF, the World Bank, and BNamericas interviews with sector experts.

First, given that one of the more problematic areas in Latin America's water processes is the lack of infrastructure and technology to monitor, evaluate, and supervise quality and extraction volumes in water bodies, governments must publish updated reports on water balance and cadastre.  

Second, while regional governments have established institutions to regulate water and sanitation processes, in general terms these entities don't all have the operational and technical capacity needed to oversee the sector. External financial and technical assistance is key in capacity building, as is the case with World Bank programs in Peru, Chile, and Colombia.  

Third, water and sewerage infrastructure and services require upfront capital and provide low annual returns. As such, governments must take a greater role in the sector; subsidies must be structured based solely on poverty levels; and partnerships, including shared infrastructure, should be sought across municipal, state, and federal governments.

Fourth, countries such as Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru do not penalize the inefficient use of water. To serve as a deterrent, Latin American governments must enact policies that penalize inefficiency. 

Fifth, not all the region's countries have systems in place to promote investments while at the same time controlling while controlling for monopolies and costs. Over the next decade, every nation in the region would ideally have the equivalent of Colombia's ANI, Peru's ProInversión and Chile's Concesiones. 

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