Global water consumption doubles every 20 years. According to UN Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Program), one of four cities in the world is in a region where the water demand surpasses the supply. And, the quality of this natural resource is deteriorating rapidly due to human actions. By 2025, forecasts indicate that at least 2/3 of the world’s population will be living in areas affected by “water stress”. This means that in just six years 5 billion people will be impacted by water shortages.
The situation is alarming, and the challenge is huge. Several actions have been implemented to tackle water scarcity with positive outcomes. One of the models with proven effectiveness is a Water Fund.
Water Funds are tools to manage natural, financial and technical resources to help ensure the future availability of water. Investing in a Water Fund is a cost-effective solution that results from partnerships between different stakeholders: non-governmental organizations, governments, businesses and civil society, all of them united under the common objective of contributing to water security by investing in watershed protection and restoration, to safeguard water sources.
Backed by science, Water Funds use nature as a solution to water challenges. For example, some countries are implementing models of payment for environmental services to compensate families who live upstream and whose actions have a direct impact on the health of the environment.
An expert in water funds
We talked with Alejandro Calvache, the Colombian coordinator of the water strategy at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) the world’s largest environmental non-profit.
Muda Tudo: Alejandro, what is the water situation in Latin America?
Alejandro: Latin America is one of the regions with the fastest economic growth and the highest urbanization rates on the planet. Recent estimates indicate that 80% of Latin Americans are living in cities, and in the next 15 years the urban population is expected to grow from 260 million to 315 million. Although we live in a region that is abundant in natural resources, we face the enormous challenge of providing drinking water at a reasonable cost.
Muda Tudo: And how can we deal with this challenge?
Alejandro: Supplying drinking water at a reasonable cost requires significant investments in the construction of physical infrastructure such as reservoirs and water treatment plants. In addition, we also need to invest in the restoration and conservation of strategic ecosystems that supply water to our ever-growing cities. This natural infrastructure (the watersheds) is critical to maintaining water quantity and quality. But, our watersheds are subject to significant stress: deforestation, poor agricultural practices, extensive ranching, mining, urbanization and, of course, climate change.
Muda Tudo: How long has TNC been working with Water Funds?
Alejandro Calvache: TNC has been working in the design and implementation of Water Funds for two decades. The funds finance projects that engage local communities in forest conservation, restoration, protection of waters springs, sustainable production systems and build the capacity of local farming communities to manage natural resources sustainably. Our goal is to reduce pressures on the ecosystems and ensure water supply (both in quantity and quality) is delivered to our cities. In addition, an endowment is established to cover project operating costs and to ensure the sustainability of the Water Fund.
Muda Tudo: Which was the first Water Fund in Latin America?
Alejandro Calvache: The Quito Water Fund, in Ecuador, which was created in 2000. The inspiration was drawn from an experiment conducted in the nineties in New York, when the city decided to protect its water sources to reduce its water treatment costs and avoid having to invest in a new treatment plant. Quito’s Water Fund is called FONAG (Fondo para la Protección del Agua). The fund was established for a term of 80 years with an initial investment of US$21,000. From then on, it has grown to US$16 million. Ranching is the main challenge in that region, which contaminates water, erodes the soil and has a negative impact on the environment.
There are 5 Water Funds in operation in Brazil and we have several others in the pipeline. They include the Piracicaba, Capivari, Jundiaí and Alto Tietê rivers (in São Paulo), Guandu river (Rio de Janeiro), Pipiripau river (in the Federal District), Camboriú river (Santa Catarina) and the Reflorestar (Reforestation) project in Espírito Santo.
Muda Tudo: How can each of us contribute to protect our water? How can individual actions be part of a collective change?
Alejandro Calvache: The general population needs to be aware of how important water is and the magnitude of the of the problems generated by water scarcity. We need to be aware of our own actions: avoid wasting water, know where the water we are consuming comes from, how it gets to our homes… join watershed protection initiatives. We must recognize the true value of water. It takes a lot for water to come to our tap when we open our faucets. Behind this apparently simple action there is a long process that includes treatment plants, pipes, and of course, nature. We need to take care of nature. Water stewardship, information and knowledge are key parts of the collective change.
Originally posted on Muda Todo on March 22, 2019.