In Latin America, water resource management is “weak” despite an increase in per capita withdrawals between 2000 and 2018, warns a United Nations report on the occasion of the first water conference that opened Wednesday in New York.
Although the region offers some examples of partnerships to harness increasingly scarce resources, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is “weak,” says the report, which recommends “high-level political support” for initiatives.
At the local level, it criticizes that most organizations working with water resources remain “cantoned” in their sector, particularly irrigation water supply.
“There is a lack of linkage of the water field with other closely linked sectors,” including education, the document asserts.
The report proposes more shared irrigation systems among farmers, cooperation between urban and rural communities, and water-energy-food interaction.
It also suggests a better understanding of ecosystems or better data and information on water to improve the management of resources that humanity is “vampirizing,” according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The combined effects of population growth, rising incomes and expanding cities will push water demand “exponentially,” warns the UN, which on Wednesday kicked off a three-day conference on water, the first since Mar del Plata (Argentina) in 1977.
Although it does not give figures by region, the report assures that unlike other parts of the world, water extraction in Latin America and the Caribbean increased between 2000 and 2018.
Globally, population growth will put pressure on world demand by around 1% each year, equivalent to an increase of 20-30% by 2050. Agriculture currently absorbs 72% of resources.
“These crises are not accidental, they are the product of our irrational forms and systems of consumption,” criticized Bolivian President Luis Arce at the opening of the conference, and are “directly related to problems of poverty, inequality and justice.”
To alleviate the crisis, the report calls for “water funds”, financing systems that bring together downstream users, such as cities, companies and public services.
Much remains to be done
The document cites some examples of success such as that of Monterrey, a Mexican city of 4 million inhabitants, where the Water Fund was created in 2013 to maintain the quality of the liquid, reduce flooding, improve filtration and recover natural habitats through co-financing, where some forty actors are involved.
Or the creation of a system of “intelligent management” of rainwater in semi-arid rural communities in northeastern Brazil, to avoid a repeat of catastrophes such as the drought between 1979 and 1983 that led to the death of nearly one million people.
In this Brazilian region, the one million cisterns installed have prevented more deaths from hunger, as well as large-scale migration, and have enabled the poorest to meet their water needs, generate income and improve food security.
The report points out that it is “essential to understand explicit and implicit water needs,” as well as to have development plans that take climate change into account. To this end, the Water Tracker for National Climate Planning, a diagnostic tool designed to help countries improve their national climate planning, was created. Costa Rica was the first country to use it in 2021.
International cooperation in the management of rivers and aquifers that cross borders is also key. Of the 22 Latin American countries, only four (Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay) have concluded agreements for 90% of their transboundary basins, he says.
But also at the national level, where crops require shared irrigation systems among farmers, and cooperation between urban and rural communities to maintain food security and farmers’ incomes.
“Much remains to be done and time is not on our side,” says Gilbert Houngbo, president of UN-Water, which together with Unesco produced the water report.