Resource Rights Key to Water Quality in Ecuador

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QUITO —  Ecuador, a Western South American country of 16 million people, borders the Pacific Ocean at the equator and lies between Colombia and Peru. It is a tropical country with many bodies of water. For more than a decade, Ecuador has been concerned about its water supply, but the government has taken consistent action to build assistance organizations and release helpful information to improve the water quality in Ecuador.

In September 1998, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ecuador released a Water Resources Assessment which analyzed the country’s existing water sources and possible opportunities to work together to maximize use of those water sources. At the time of the assessment, the country faced a water supply crisis due to an uneven amount of rainfall in each region.

Some regions in Ecuador go months without rain — some see 250 millimeters of rain annually, and other areas see as much as 6,000 millimeters per year. Only 10 percent of available water was being used for irrigation and domestic and industrial purposes in the late ’90s. The assessment claimed that at the time, more small water supply systems needed to be implemented throughout the country, and existing ones needed repair.

Some regions of Ecuador were in a period of severe drought, and experts at the time of the assessment noted the country would only get drier if lack of rainfall persisted. Ecuador was also experiencing polluted and contaminated waterways. As of the publication of this 1998 report, only 61 percent of Ecuador’s large population had access to potable water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was able to offer various solutions after the initial assessment. One suggestion was to offer technical training and assistance to Ecuadorian government officials to encourage increased planning, developing, and management of the country’s water resources. Another recommendation to Ecuador was systematic watershed planning which would evaluate alternate uses of water, identify conflicts of competing water uses and make changes through educated decisions.

Just nine years later, Ecuador, home to more than 2,000 rivers and streams which provide the country with almost all of its liquid resource, was named the “Water Capital of the World” by the Panamerican Health Organization in 2007. Despite the country’s abundance of water, the water crisis continued as many government-established projects were overly ambitious, and built to manage more water than was available, leading to deterioration of existing water infrastructure and resource limitation as a result of overconsumption. Additionally, there was increased public unrest and outcry over lack of transparency and room for local public participation when it came to proposed and approved hydroelectric projects.

By 2010, Ecuadorian residents were protesting more aggressively, as per the news of large multinational corporations seeking to own and control water sources. In the same year, the Ecuadorian government sought to pass a bill called the Hydraulic Resources Law, which would allow large corporations to acquire concessions to provide water to the public, and to make all decisions on water rights at the state level. Such a decision would exclude traditional local water management systems and public voices in the process.

With that said, one suggestion according to a 2015 case study on drinking water in Ecuador is that the country’s water quality might improve if water governance does.

A number of organizations in Ecuador and internationally have been fighting for improved water quality in Ecuador. OHorizons, a nonprofit that works to make lives better for communities in need of safe and clean water, has worked in Ecuador since its inception. The organization has helped the country construct and implement 200 BioSand filters in the El Oro province, and has given more than 1,000 people access to clean water for more than 15 years.

Water Ecuador, also known as Aquality, is a nonprofit founded in 2007 with a focus on improving health in Ecuador. The organization focused first on building water centers on the country’s coast to better small communities’ drinking water, and in 2015, it assumed a research-based focus in order to grow its global scope and give clean water to all.

These organizations and many more have been and still are doing incredible work to provide clean water to Ecuadorians and to support the government in attainable and effective water management solutions. Though the country has struggled for many years to improve water access and quality, its consistent struggle has only created more working organizations and accessible information, which will hopefully eventually eradicate poor water quality in Ecuador.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr

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