Agua para Todos: Water for All
Cortnie Shupe and Julia Steets
Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin
This study seeks to enrich the debate on when and how partnerships can make a valuable, cost-effective and lasting contribution to sustainable development by tracing the origins, partner motivations and operational practices of the Agua para Todos (Water for All) partnership and assessing its success and impact to date. Agua para Todos presents a locally owned and oriented, innovative partnership model for the provision of affordable and safe drinking water to poor populations in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Originally encompassing one commercial entity (Agua Tuya), the city municipal water provider (SEMAPA), and water communities on a case-by-case basis, the partnership grew to include non-profit micro-finance institutions (CIDRE and Pro Habitat), the local authorities (Cochabamba Municipality) and UNDP Bolivia.
Partner incentives for participating in the initiative varied from partner entity to entity, ranging from the combination of social goals and profit to increased political legitimacy and self-help.
Agua para Todos emerged out of the extremely difficult political situation that succeeded the ‘water wars’ in Cochabamba. In addition to the general mitigation of conflict in its community, the partnership sought to accomplish three main goals and set measurable targets in order to reach them:
Goal 1: Expansion of safe water provision at an affordable price to households in Cochabamba previously not linked to the main water distribution network.
Targets: Connection of 17,000 households to local distribution networks and lowering of costs from 2.50 USD to approximately 1.25 USD during 2005-2009
Goal 2: Training members of local water committees in water management
Target: Train members of each water committee established
Goal 3: Creation of a financing function for both local ownership and the quicker expansion of water systems
Target: Creation of a lower-interest (from 14 percent) revolving fund exclusively for water system expansion
By the end of 2007, the partnership had achieved approximately 20 percent of its expansion goals, had thus far met its targets for capacity building of the water committees in water management and had created a revolving fund for the water systems. However, it did experience some financing difficulties, such as in providing sufficient collateral in order for a water committee to receive a loan. Consequently, the municipality currently contributes 51 percent of investment into the distribution systems, substantially more than the 20 percent anticipated. Despite some initial delays in the project, Agua para Todos received impressive marks from stakeholders in the last surveying process. Moreover, interest from new, potential partner organizations as well as in replicating the Agua para Todos model in other regions further indicate the high level of success that this partnership enjoys.
While formal monitoring and evaluation processes are currently lacking, regular, informal controlling practices do exist, including structural checks and balances for partnership activities. For example, Agua Tuya is responsible for most operational activities while the Municipality controls the evaluation of these activities. Regular meetings and progress reports as well as informal communication on a needs basis help to keep all partners informed about activities.
Similar to monitoring and evaluation practices, formal governance structures are kept at a minimum. Rather than using a formal body or board, one or two leading partners generally make operational decisions on an informal basis. Nevertheless, the process for taking major decisions such as beginning cooperation with a water committee for a new connection is stipulated explicitly in the formal partnership memoranda of understanding (MOUs), which include one multilateral contract between Agua Tuya, SEMAPA, the Municipality of Cochabamba and UNDP Bolivia; and three bilateral contracts between Agua Tuya and SEMAPA, Pro Habitat and Agua Tuya and Pro Habitat and SEMAPA. MOUs provide for formal accountability between project partners.
Since the partnership’s inception in 2004, observers have been able to
derive several internal and external success factors and lessons learned out of the experiences of Agua para Todos. Internal strengths include the nature of the partnership as a locally owned initiative; a high level of receptiveness from the public sector actor; dynamic leadership; flexible financial models; and the production of a high-quality product with proven technology. External factors that presented an opportunity for success included high demand for the partnership product within the affected community; customer willingness to pay for the price of the product; existing strong community mobilization and organization; and enabling legislation.
Likewise, factors hindering progress in the partnership were identified: insufficient guidelines on responsibilities; frequent staff turnover within partner organizations; and difficulties acquiring the guarantees necessary for water committees to take out loans for the construction of a water system.