Water Solutions Without Borders

Experts from Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Uganda converged in Ipiales, Nariño, Colombia, for a transformative workshop hosted by Green Empowerment. This gathering brought together Water Committee members from six local communities,  Green Empowerment staff members from five countries, and two new partners, Fundación Halü and Fundación Suyusama, with whom pilot projects are currently underway in Nariño. A notable highlight was the participation of Don Víctor, a passionate advocate for rural water and farmers’ rights.

María Espinoza, Green Empowerment Nicaragua Program Coordinator, led the workshop, focusing on training, awareness, and expanding the knowledge of local water boards. Central to the workshop was the theme: Estimating Basic Costs for Water System Maintenance, which is crucial in Colombia, where community-managed systems risk government intervention or privatization without sustainability.  This intervention can lead to communities losing control over their water systems, with private entities prioritizing profit over equitable access and local involvement.

Workshop participants collaborated on estimating upgrade costs using a proven methodology from Green Empowerment’s successful projects in Ecuador and Nicaragua. María explains, “More than a methodology, we have adapted a model that we are sure works in Latin America. The advantage of this model is that it shares the same objectives of the countries where Green Empowerment has an impact, which in turn facilitates its adoption.”

Bridging Uganda and Colombia: Q&A with Benaville Nagudi

For the first time, Benaville Nagudi, Green Empowerment’s Uganda Program Coordinator, visited our projects in Colombia. Her participation in the workshop was mutually beneficial: she gained valuable insights, while her expertise in water and sanitation (WASH) introduced new perspectives and innovative ideas that greatly enriched the discussions.

BENAVILLE NAGUDI: First, Operation and Maintenance for rural water systems (O&M). The biggest challenge is how to work through our partners to plan for the budget for O&M at the inception of the project. It’s cliché for organizations to think about O&M at the end of the project, when resources are mostly depleted, and projects are planned to be handed over to communities or local management structures/ models, yet their capacity to sustain them over time is not guaranteed.

The second challenge is Tariff Structures. In both countries, most of our partners lack expertise in setting tariffs effectively. Tariffs should ensure beneficiaries get the true value for the water they are paying for, produce a return on investment for piped schemes over time, and ensure the system can sustain itself over time.

BN: This past year, we completed our first piped water system with The Water Trust. Throughout the project, we supported The Water Trust in adapting to moving away from point sources to metered access. Now, the conversation is moving to household metered access. 

During my trip to Colombia, I was able to provide insights to the team on how we navigated through vast challenges around budgeting and developing rural community management models for the piped scheme.

BN: My experience in Colombia made me consider how we can better integrate gender perspectives into our Uganda program. This involves designing projects with a focus on gender, identifying gaps that affect women and girls, and recognizing their critical roles in decision-making related to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) issues. It’s crucial for us to identify and understand the gender disparities, procedural obstacles, and financial challenges that hinder women in decision-making. As an organization, we must collaborate with partners to address these gaps and support initiatives that empower women in this regard.

Also, I was captivated by the power of the existing social organizing structures in our Colombia program. Seeing communities being hands-on in construction works, providing logistical support for water supplies, participating in tariff design, and budget accountability to communities creates a rich sense of ownership for the project we do, and this is something I think we can adapt, and move away from delegating large portions of work to contractors, but instead engage the community in the hardware activities of the project, which in the long run feeds into the sustainability of projects.

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