Guardian event: progress in Latin America is ‘starting to plateau’ | Global Development Professionals Network

The news that more than 200 people were killed in floods and landslides in Colombia formed a sombre backdrop to a panel discussion on Latin America’s water crisis, hosted by the Guardian in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 4 April.

Floods in Colombia and Peru have exposed weaknesses in dealing with emergencies in the region. “We have a double whammy of climate change impacting how we manage water, and not having the planning to respond to environmental changes,” said Emily Farnworth, head of climate at the World Economic Forum.

Though Latin America is home to a third of the world’s freshwater resources, 30 million people are without access to safe drinking water across the region and 100 million still lack access to sanitation. The issue is not supply, it’s management, said Colombia-based journalist Sibylla Brodzinsky, who was chairing the event, Maintaining the Momentum for the SDGs – Latin America.

The water crisis is an institutional problem, due to a long-term lack of prioritisation of infrastructural works, particularly underground water pipes, said Pablo Bereciartua, under-secretary for water resources at Argentina’s interior ministry. The government’s National Water Plan aims to align its policies to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the minister said, adding: “Argentina has a historic deficit in investment and planning in the water field, which this government set out to solve”.

To address the problem of water management, the World Bank’s Gustavo Saltiel said more must be invested in institutions working towards providing drinking water, and making it sustainable. “The state is the biggest funder here in Argentina and worldwide, but you also need private investment,” he said, adding that he did not mean privatisation of water services. Instead, Saltiel called for a small percentage of private investment to complement the state’s investment. “The issue is that there are no projects, no plans, no safety … so we need to have private investment: 90% from the government or state; 10% from investors.”

Romina Libster. Photograph: Louise Bartlett Truslove

Germán Guillermo Pennimpede, legal and corporate affairs director for Coca Cola at Femsa de Argentina, added that it was not only about the quality of institutions: “The water crisis won’t be solved by throwing money at it. It requires a concerted effort. The education of civil society is key for success in the long term.”

The speakers agreed that community involvement is vital to achieving the SDGs. When it comes to protecting the health of populations across Latin America, particularly from viruses such as Zika, individuals need to take responsibility to protect their community, said Romina Libster, a researcher at Fundacion Infant and the National Scientific and Technical Research Council. “Getting vaccinated isn’t just a right, it’s a responsibility,” she said. “When the pandemics arrive there won’t be borders or…

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