The Government of El Salvador (GOES) is currently considering how to modernize its water and sanitation sector. The national debate in El Salvador on the decentralization of water supply in El Salvador is a result of a general agreement throughout all sectors that the current system is not working. Currently ANDA (National Water and Sewage Administration) is overseeing all aspects of water deliverance and sanitation in El Salvador. Out of 262 municipalities in the country, ANDA operates water systems in 181. Although in theory ANDA has been responsible for water supply in rural communities since 1996, ANDA does not have the resources or capability to manage these systems and so they are generally ignored. This paper first discusses the current water situation in El Salvador. As El Salvador is currently undergoing a large reform in its water sector, this process of decentralization is examined secondly in the paper. The last section discusses rural water supply, and an analysis on how to assure sustainability of these rural systems.
Introduction ~ Water in Low-Income Countries ~ The Current Water Situation in El Salvador ~ Decentralization of ANDA ~ Sustainable Solutions for Rural Areas ~ Conclusions ~ References
El Salvador, a small country located on the Pacific coast of Central America, is the most densely populated country in Central America on the mainland of the Americas. The population is over 5.8 million, with one-third of this population living in the country's capital, San Salvador (Expedia Travel Information). According to the CIA's World Fact Book, 48% of the population lives below the poverty line. Income generation is from services (66% of GDP), industry (22% of GDP), and agriculture (12% of GDP). Industry production includes food processing, beverages, petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, furniture, and light metals. Money generated from agriculture includes coffee, sugarcane, corn, rice, beans, oilseed, cotton, sorghum, beef, dairy products and shrimp production (CIA World Fact Book). The map of El Salvador below shows the country's capital and largest city, San Salvador. The second-largest city in El Salvador is Santa Ana in the West followed by San Miguel in the East.
Figure 1: Map of El Salvador Source: http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~william/index.html
In addition to factory closings and falling coffee prices, El Salvador still must cope with the aftermaths of a 12-year civil war (which ended in 1992), damages caused by Hurricane Mitch (which struck in 1998), frequent earthquakes and floods. El Salvador faces the fourth lowest literacy rate in the hemisphere. Fewer than 50 percent of Salvadorans graduate from sixth grade (USAID, 1998). Low educational levels, along with El Salvador's high crime rate (crime statistics for 1994 through 1996 show El Salvador with the highest homicide rate in Latin America, exceeding that even of Colombia), further impede development (Institute for National Strategic Studies). According to the World Bank (1997), crime and violence also have a significant impact on the reduction in economic growth and increase in poverty. The World Bank reports that this is especially true in El Salvador. More than 12% of the GNP in El Salvador is spent dealing with violence and the consequences resulting from it (World Bank).
The Lempa, the most important river in the country, flows from the north western border with Guatemala across the country to the East where it meets the Pacific Ocean. This basin provides an estimated 63% of El Salvador's water. The principal user of water resources is the electricity sector, as 60% of the El Salvador's power comes from hydroelectric plants on the Lempa. Irrigation accounts for the largest proportion of water consumption. However, over 90% of El Salvador's surface water is contaminated. This high level of surface water contamination can be attributed to erosion, agricultural runoff, and the fact that only 2% of all municipal and industrial discharges receive some form of treatment before reaching a water body. (Linares)
Water shortages are widespread, yet El Salvador does not have an agency responsible for overall management of water resources. The popular expression in El Salvador water belongs to everyone, and to no one is appropriate in that all water users compete for utilization and ownership of water as there is no mechanism for allocating water rights, no clean water act, and environmental laws aren't enforced. In a report sponsored by the Environmental Health Project (EHP), investigator Carlos Linares describes the legal and managerial aspects of water resources in El Salvador as "a series of uncoordinated and sometimes contradictory legal instruments." (Linares)
About 49% of the population lives in rural areas where the standard of living is very low (Country Watch). In recent years remittances from family members living abroad have been a major source of income in rural areas. Salvadorans, primarily as a result of the civil war, account for well over 300,000 illegal immigrants; the second largest group of illegal immigrants after those from Mexico (USAID, 1998). Traditionally rural areas have been agriculturally based although there is not enough farm land to allocate to poor small farmers so as to make them viable farmers. To this day still 1% of the land owners control 40% of the land despite the land reform after the civil war. As a result of extensive farming and years of war, El Salvador has the highest level of environmental damage in the Americas, with only 5% of the land considered forested. The extensive flooding from Hurricane Mitch and landslides from recent earthquakes can be most likely attributed to the high level of deforestation and bad farming practices. Although water is fairly abundant in all areas of the country during the rainy season (May to October), in the dry season (November to April) aquifers and rivers dry up. (Enemies of War)
The problem addressed in this paper deals with water supply in El Salvador, with an emphasis of water supply in rural areas. Studies conducted by ANDA (National Water and Sewage Administration) in 1994 show that although 54.8% of the population had public water supply, only 16.1% of the rural population had access to public water supply (USAID, 1994). In a recent paper by Carlos Linares (2001), a slightly higher number of 25% of rural areas have access to clean water supply. These figures by Carlos Linares also show that El Salvador has the lowest overall water coverage in Central America (Linares). The following table show statistics generated by the United Nations shows higher numbers for access to rural water supply, as here access is defined in terms of the types of technology and levels of service afforded. For water, this includes house connections, public standpipes, boreholes with handpumps, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collection; and locally defined technologies.
|% of population with access to improved drinking water sources|
From the data collected by the UN, El Salvador's water situation compares to that of China (with slightly lower urban coverage in El Salvador).
By 2025 it is predicted that Earth will find itself amidst a dangerously low water supply. In 1997 the United Nations did an assessment that determined that one third of the world's population lives in countries where the current water situation is under moderate to high stress. This stress can be attributed to many factors such as population growth, increased industrial water use, agriculture, and environmental degradation. As many developing nations also experience high population growth rates, are heavily dependent on agriculture and have a high amount of environmental damage (due to rapid industrialization and consequently modern toxic pollution problems), it is no surprise that much of the projected increase in water demand will occur in these countries. (UNESCO)
Igor A. Shiklomanov, author of World Water Resources and Their Use, concludes that "a very large natural unevenness of water availability distribution over the Earth ever increases with time by great rates due to man’s activities and population growth." (UNESCO). The figure below, developed by Igor A. Shiklomanov, shows high water stress with low per capita income.
El Salvador is no exception to the water problem. The country is currently tackling water problems, and experts fear that the country will run out of drinking water in the next 15 years. (Enemies of War)
On any given day there is a high probability in finding a water-related article in one of the Salvadoran newspapers regarding water problems. Here are some examples of articles recently published in two major Salvadoran papers, La Prensa Grafica and El Diario de Hoy:
Residents in Colonia Ciudad Pacífico, Ahuachapán, are reporting that because of ANDA 100 families only have water for a very short amount of time, at midnight. ANDA (national sewage and water administration) says that only 20 families don't have water. A community leader claims that in the last two weeks the situation has worsened and that sometimes they go days without water. ANDA denies responsibility and says that the problems are because of the dry season, topographic location of the community, and construction being done on nearby roads. (10)
Santiago de Nonualco is on its third week without water. The mayor has met with ANDA to discuss this problem caused by broken pumps. According to the mayor, ANDA said that the problem had been fixed. Nevertheless, the community is on its third week without water. The mayor has since requested that the Red Cross send tanks of water. The Red Cross quickly responded, but this is not enough water to meet the demands of the community. The community has now resorted to getting water from a nearby river that is contaminated with wastewater from a nearby city. In addition to these problems, a community member claims that ANDA hasn't even taken the time to explain the problem in the system nor supply any form of water to the community. (11)
In Nueva Granada 8,000 residents only receive water for two hours, once a week. Irregular water supply has been a problem for awhile. The only thing ANDA has done is provide excuses. The first excuse was that the problems were electric. The second excuse was bad pumps, and now the third excuse is damages caused by the earthquakes. Although there is no water, residents pay a monthly fee. The tank built in 1995 has never been cleaned, and the little water they do receive has coliforms. Residents are surprised that an epidemic has not broken out since they have a hard time maintaining adequate hygiene levels when there is no water. Mosquitoes have increased since people must store water in open tanks (13)
The current water problems in El Salvador can be traced to its managerial structure. In 1961 ANDA was formed as the only institution allowed to regulate, standardize, plan, set tariff rates, and operate water and sewage services. Hence, ANDA can be considered a centralized public monopoly (Linares). ANDA focuses its attention and resources on the San Salvador area because this area generates 70% of ANDA's revenue comes from the 300,000 service connections in San Salvador and employs 72% of ANDA's labor force (EHP AR 65).
ANDA, currently responsible for water and sanitation services throughout El Salvador, operates water systems in 181 of El Salvador's 262 municipalities (Linares). However, ANDA is overwhelmed with its responsibility to provide water and sanitation services for the entire country (EHP AR 64). There continues to be many problems associated with the management of urban and rural water supply in El Salvador (EHP AR 65). In the municipalities not managed by ANDA, 73 are managed by municipalities directly, one by a municipal small business, three by PLANSABAR/community and one by an NGO (Linares). In rural areas, or the informal sector, the majority of the systems are managed by private voluntary organizations as shown in the diagram below. El Salvador is different from other Central American countries in that the majority of water systems are operated by the state company, in this case, ANDA.
It is interesting to note that the country listed here with the highest percent connections by a state company (Nicaragua), has the lowest rural access to water according to the United Nations chart above, when compared to the other five countries El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic . The country with the highest percent connections by a municipality (Guatemala) has the highest access to rural water, when compared to the other five countries El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, as also shown above. In addition, most ANDA wells produce fecal coliforms. (EHP AR 65)
There are 14 departments in El Salvador. Each department has a larger sized city called the department head. Each department is divided into several municipalities, with one local city called the municipality. Each municipality is like a county, with an urban center and rural communities (Expedia Travel Information).
The figure below shows a typical rural setting. In this figure the department head is San Miguel. San Miguel's water system is administered by ANDA. In many cases larger cities like San Miguel are surrounded by smaller colonias. These areas are generally also served by ANDA. Each department is then broken into municipalities. For example, in the Department of San Miguel there are 20 municipalities. Municipalities generally have water, electricity, garbage collection of some type, and phone service. Outside the municipalities are several small agricultural villages referred to as cantones. These usually have around 300 families (1500 people). The electricity and water coverage in the cantones is variable. Usually there are no phone lines, garbage collection, wastewater systems or transport to these areas. Water systems in cantones are usually built by NGO's (CARE, for example) and administered by a private voluntary organization (PVO). These juntas de agua have been given a legal backing so that small rural communities can demand service, and have local control over the operation and maintenance of water supply systems in addition to having a health promoter. This is a result of the Peace Accords in 1992. (EHP AR 64)
The main factor threatening these systems is sustainability. A broad consensus exists that the community should be primarily responsible for its water system. However, rural communities need ongoing support and ANDA has not been able to provide it (EHP AR 64). Although ANDA is currently in the process of becoming decentralized, process may not help small rural communities. The largest problem associated with rural water supply systems is that there is no agency who monitors the operation of rural systems and the communities have no institution to turn to when they need help (EHP AR 65). The rural water supply division of ANDA has been responsible for the provision of water supply to rural communities since 1996, but this division has not yet have the capability or resources to do its job. The Social Investment Fund (SIF) and other donors (such as NGOs) have provided much of the funding for construction of rural water and sanitation systems.
In addition to the current problems associated with the current centralized systems, several other factors add to the difficulty of water supply in El Salvador (EHP AR 64):
El Salvador is mostly flat. This presents a problem in that in many cases pumps are needed and/or long conduction lines;
Another difficulty is the low conductivity of the soil in areas where there is abundant volcanic material. In addition, the steep slopes along volcanic areas causes high runoff (in the wet season an estimated 84.4% of the precipitation is converted into runoff);
Surface water is usually not an option for supply since it is heavily contaminated;
The population living in rural areas is very dispersed. ANDA reports that 89% of the municipalities have populations less than 10,000 people and 51% have populations less than 2,000 habitants.
The national debate on decentralization of water supply and sanitation services in El Salvador has been influenced by several factors. For one there is wide spread agreement that the current centralized system does not work, especially for those living outside of San Salvador. Secondly, access to safe drinking water and sanitation services in rural areas is very low and water-related disease is very high. Thirdly, municipalities are demanding a more active role in providing basic services. Lastly, the country is currently restructuring other state-controlled services such as energy generation and distribution, telecommunications, ports and the financial sector. In addition to the above, there are increasing environmental concerns caused by the contamination of surface water supplies, poor agricultural and industrial practices that threaten groundwater supplies and conflict over water uses and water rights. (EHP AR 65)
The water sector can be considered to be divided between the formal sector (state-owned and municipal systems) and the informal sector. For the most part the informal sector is the sector dealing with rural water supply.
Other Central American countries are also looking into restructuring their water supply services. Countries looking into different service options are shown below:
|Strategies for Reorganizing Formal Service Provision (EHP AR 65)|
|Devolution||Transfer of responsibility between government levels|
|(Honduras and El Salvador)|
|Deconcentration||Regionalization of state corporations|
|(Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic)|
|Corporatization||Operating company is turned into a commercial company|
|(Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras)|
Devolution is the process currently taking place in El Salvador. Over one-third of municipalities currently manage their systems and the others are actively trying to gain control of these systems from ANDA. Over the next year ANDA predicts that between 20 and 30 water systems will be handed over to the municipalities (4). Some municipalities have seized control of the systems, are are currently in lawsuit with ANDA. One obstacle is that in the 1997 municipal elections ARENA (right-wing party) was defeated in municipal elections by the FMLN (left-wing party) and national authorities were not interested in giving increased power to the opposition by handing over the water systems to the municipalities (EHP AR 65).
In a study conducted by the EHP in May 1998, it was shown that the primary factor affecting the choice of options (devolution, deconcentration and corporatization) is the size of the municipality. The study concluded that only in the 13 municipalities with populations greater than 20,000 is the private sector option likely to work. The study also concluded that municipalities will require technical assistance to develop the capacity to implement municipally driven solutions. For municipalities less than 25,000, the commercial water and sewage operation is not so viable, although one way around this is to establish inter-municipal organizations. It is possible that larger cities will use private operators in the future although the FMLN is opposed to water privatization. The advantage to deconcentration is that state-owned systems have greater access to subsidy and secured capital resources and revenue income. (EHP AR 65)
In many cases rural water supply falls under the informal sector. The informal sector tends to have higher tariff payments but are more willing to pay because in many cases non-piped water is very expensive and they know that they cannot get improved services (at least in areas where there are no rivers or springs nearby). In these situations models for community organization and technical assistance are required. (EHP AR 65)
For rural technical assistance several options exist. These include NGO, ANDA or autonomous organization support. To date NGO's have been the most effective agencies in rural and peri-urban areas. A proposed idea is a newly created national regulatory agency specializing in rural water supply and sanitation that contract with other organizations such as NGO's or private companies to provide support. However, the focus of decentralization and reform on rural and peri-urban areas has not been of primary concern. For this reason none of these options has been explored too thoroughly. (EHP AR 65)
Sustainability refers to the capacity of a project to deliver its intended benefits over the long term. In rural water supply sustainability is defined as the maintenance of an acceptable level of services throughout the design life of the water supply system. This is determined by aspects such as the design and construction of the system, institutional aspects (O&M) and social aspects (willingness to provide time, money and labor). (World Bank Report)
There are several reasons why rural water supply systems have not been sustainable. Governmental and non-governmental organizations tend to pay more attention to building new facilities than to ensuring use of the existing ones. Although the Government of El Salvador (GOES), USAID, IDB and others have contributed large amounts of money in rural water and sanitation during the phase of system construction, once the systems are built, roles for project planning, implementation, cost recovery, operation and maintenance, and asset ownership are poorly defined and communicated . Also, many projects are rushed, or problems left unattended for too long. In some cases feasibility studies were initiated and driven by consultants who were more interested in getting work done than thinking about sustainability. (World Bank Report)
Although the decentralization process is not thought to greatly affect rural areas, in recent years the management of some rural systems has become centralized. PLANSABAR (Rural Water and Sanitation Plan- created in 1965 by the Ministry of Health, and terminated in 1994) constructed 308 rural systems and have been handed over to ANDA in 1996. ANDA now manages about 700 rural systems. (EHP AR 65) Once these systems are handing over to the rural communities the main threat to these systems, like those built by USAID and NGOs, will once again will be sustainability. Despite the problem of sustainability, broad agreement exists about local private non-profit organization (juntas de agua) serving as community water boards and managing their own systems in El Salvador, but little thinking has been done on how to provide O&M, financial management, community organization and hygiene and education support.
The Mvula Trust, a South African NGO, and the World Bank have investigated factors that help assure sustainability in rural water supply. The following paragraphs discuss the demand-responsive approach to help governmental and non-governmental organizations prioritize communities to receive projects based on social indicators. The demand-responsive approach also allows the community to be directly involved in the decision making process so that informed decisions can be made in designing and building the water supply system. The model developed by the Mvula Trust can be used effectively in developing a training program for community members.
The traditional approach to building water systems is designing and constructing the system based on prescribed needs. These systems are generally built from international pressure, or foreign aid money to increase supply to rural areas. In some cases these systems are built as a result of a disaster (war, hurricane, earthquakes). In both scenarios, the systems are built without taking into account the felt needs of the community. In these cases the "needs" of the community are linked to perceived health improvements. When managerial decisions about the level of service, location of facilities, cost recovery and O&M are not made locally, the potential for problems to arise is very large. For example is a community is near a spring and uses this water for drinking and bathing, they may not necessarily want to pay for water from a water supply system that they can easily get for free from the spring. Even if the community suffers from water-related diseases this may still not be an incentive to pay a price for clean water. (World Bank Report)
The demand-responsive approach in rural water supply is an important concept to help assure proper use and sustainability of the water system. In this way problems can be solved before they arise, and wise investment decisions can be made. This approach to water supply in low-income countries may sound very theoretical, although in actuality can be very practical. The demand-responsiveness of a community can be determined by conducting a household to household survey. Questions can be asked that are linked to indicators of sustainability, such as willingness-to-pay and community organization. (World Bank Report)
In rural water supply demand is defined as the quantity and quality of water community members will choose to consume at a given price. Demand for a good or service is an economic function and is influenced by an individual's budget, the price of the good, and individual preferences. In rural water supply the price of the good refers to all valued resources including the individual's time or labor given in exchange for a service. For example, CARE International requires that the community provide all unskilled labor, participate in environmental, water and health committees, provide all local resources (eg sand) for the community to receive a water project. If the community is not willing to participate in the above CARE will refuse the community a water project. In addition, all households must have a latrine and be willing to pay a monthly fee for water once the system has been completed. Even in areas where the standard of living is low, there is significant evidence to show that in communities with a high demand for improved water supply find ways to solve their own problems. Governmental organizations and NGOs should use this method to answer the question of which communities will receive aid first. (World Bank Report)
A South African NGO, the Mvula Trust, has developed a model for the redevelopment of old systems and the establishment of new ones. The model is based on the following elements. In the model developed by the Mvula Trust, the future in rural water supply must emphasize flexibility, allowing options, appropriate technical design, outcomes and behavior-change based training, monitoring and evaluation for sustainability, and development of appropriate institutional arrangements which promote effective linkages between all institutions (Netshiwinzhe).
Appropriate Institutional Arrangements
The community should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities between local, municipal and governmental organizations. One important arrangement is with the Ministry of Health. In this way the water board can coordinate activities to improve the overall health in the community with health programs the government is sponsoring.
Appropriate Level of Service
As mentioned earlier in the document, water should be managed as a social as well as an economic good at the lowest appropriate level, with users involved in the planning and implementation of projects (World Bank Report). This concept is agreed upon by several international agencies.
Decentralized O&M and Cost Recovery
A low cost recovery is one of the largest contributes leading to project failure. Many projects have continued to function through government subsidies for operations and maintenance. If these subsidies are withdrawn, the projects collapse. Part of this problem has to do with poor training in financial management. This often tends to focus on an individual rather than the broadening of local level financial management capacity. More focus should be made on the capacity of committees to do financial planning. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the more localized the control over O&M and cost recovery is, the more effectively the scheme will run.
Communication problems present an additional obstacle. Members of communities complain that they do not understand how the tariffs are being calculated, or how much money is being used each month. This leads to distrust and anxiety at a local level. Transparency in accounting for money raised and spent is a determining factor for on-going payment of services.
This word has been come into use because most development work is externally driven and works from the top-down. The South African NGO, the Mvula Trust, remains convinced that the key to promoting sustainability is participation. Their experience has shown that "fully engaging beneficiaries in decision making " tends to result in significantly "less time wasted." In this way many conflicts can be resolved before they arise, project results are in-line with community expectations and desires, and ownership of the project is more deeply felt than in those projects which are "expert driven."
Water as an Entry Point to Economic Development
In this aspect O&M support services should be linked to the issue of local economic development as much as possible. In this way jobs are created, income remains in local areas, and new model of private-public partnerships are encouraged to evolve.
Health and Hygiene Promotion
These are important factors that will have a positive impact on the community as a whole. This is linked to participation in that participatory programs where local residents address a key health problem or behavior to be modified have a far greater chance of success than prefabricated, generalized messages designed by the project implementers. Many agencies working on these projects falsely believe that if people know something they will obviously practice it.
Monitoring and Evaluation for Sustainability
Another key point is monitoring and evaluation for sustainability. Currently this type of evaluation focuses on how many people have been trained, benefited, how much money has been spent etc. The key is to focus on cost recovery, maintenance and repair, community involvement, use and functioning of the systems. Unfortunately, in many countries like El Salvador, no agency exists to fulfill this responsibility.
The process of decentralization in El Salvador should have a positive effect on the water services people living in municipalities receive. In this way, municipalities will be able to make managerial decisions regarding their water supply, and respond quickly to any problems which may develop in the supply system. However, in rural areas of El Salvador the process of decentralization will have a much smaller effect. Rural El Salvador will still be dependent for awhile on foreign assistance. There are only a few rural systems currently managed by ANDA that will be handed over to the communities to which they belong. These systems that will be handed down, and those currently being managed by private voluntary organizations, will face the challenge of trying to make these systems sustainable.
In the paper two different studies are presented, one conducted by the World Bank (the demand-responsive approach) and the other by the Mvula Trust. The demand-responsive approach is ideal for NGO's and other organizations when trying to select communities to receive assistance. In this way projects are not built that will quickly fail. The community is actively involved in the decision making processes so that problems are resolved in the initial phases of implementation so that major complications don't arise after the system is already built.
The Mvula Trust's Model outlines several key points that should be taken into account by the institution implementing the project and training the community. The most fundamental are participation, decentralized O&M and cost recovery, and managing and evaluation for sustainability. The latter requires the presence of an organization to be at hand to provide assistance to rural communities. Although this organization does not exist at the moment, hopefully in the near future such an agency will be established. The presence of such an organization would probably benefit rural areas with water supply systems greatly.
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