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WASH Sector Challenges in the Face of the Pandemic 

By Julio Antonio Guzmán Tocto, Program Officer – Social Management, Water For People Perú 

Versión en español aquí.

The departments of Cajamarca and La Libertad in Perú have been promoting a set of recommendations intended for the Municipal Technical Departments (ATM, for the Spanish acronym)1, rural providers generally called Sanitation Services Management Boards2 (JASS, for the Spanish acronym3) and users, to guarantee the provision of sanitation services in the midst of national emergency due to COVID-19. 

On March 15, 2020, the Government of Perú decreed a state of national emergency and ordered the population to comply with mandatory isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that handwashing with soap and water is one of the defenses for preventing contagion. This made it imperative to ensure that rural drinking water systems continue to function and provide chlorinated water to families in the communities. 

Albert Einstein said, "It’s in crisis that inventiveness is born, as well as discoveries made and big strategies." It is a phrase that the regional technical teams of Cajamarca and La Libertad, responsible for providing technical assistance to local governments, have internalized very well. They promote a set of recommendations intended for the ATMs, JASS, and users of rural drinking water systems to guarantee the provision of sanitation services in a scenario of national emergency and social isolation due to COVID-19. 

Since the beginning of 2019, the regional technical teams of Cajamarca and La Libertad, made up of representative bodies of the main actors in the sanitation sector, have been coordinating efforts on the design and implementation of strategies that will have a sustainable impact on reaching Everyone with water and sanitation services at the local level. This effort has made it possible to identify and prioritize the first group of districts to close gaps in water and sanitation coverage.  

The challenge in the midst of the pandemic 

Drinking water system of the Chuchalac Village, Cascas District, La Libertad Department, Peru

Ensuring the provision of sanitation services in a national emergency scenario poses a great challenge. This was especially evident when the National Government’s decree for COVID-19 temporarily paralyzed progress on regional strategies.  

Recommendations for the ATMs and JASS during the COVID-19 emergency

The regional technical teams of Cajamarca and La Libertad did not wait to respond. The rapid adoption and adaptation to remote work, the use of technological tools (for many, used for the first time), and the commitment to ensure services for Everyone Forever sparked the development of recommendations for ATM personnel and JASS managers to ensure the supply of chlorinated water to rural families and the dissemination of measures proposed by the government to control the epidemic. 

Municipal Technical Departments in action 

Ángel Zárate, head of the Cascas ATM, points out that, in the midst of the health emergency, ensuring that water continues to flow in rural communities is really a big challenge. "In Cascas, our greatest strength is having achieved the sustainability of our intervention. The ATM staff, the directors of JASS and the operators of the water systems are a single team founded on trust and empathy. In addition, we have a great strategic partner such as Water For People , who has strengthened our knowledge and trained us on the use of tools for strong management." Ángel continues, "The recommendations from a higher authority are very important to further strengthen the work; however, the lessons learned from training and technical support are the essence that allows each water actor to responsibly assume their role to ensure that the families of the communities have chlorinated water service on a daily basis. In 2017, we had an experience in emergency and we came out stronger. 2020 presented a new challenge, to intervene remotely. We are preparing for it." 

Rural sanitation virtual network in the scenario of the COVID-19 health emergency

It has been interesting to see, in this first stage, more than 200 ATMs actively participating in the dissemination of protection and control measures of the pandemic using loudspeakers in the main squares and disinfecting streets and markets. Gradually, given the new measures currently being considered by the National Government, we continue to communicate with the JASS and establish remote monitoring (and in person where appropriate) to ensure the availability of water in the communities and the chlorination of the systems. In addition, there is close coordination with the Ministry of Housing, Construction, and Sanitation to provide water to populations with supply problems using cisterns. 

Based on the recommendations of the regional technical teams, Water For People, together with the municipal teams of Reque (in the department of Lambayeque), Cascas (in the department of La Libertad), and Asunción (in the department of Cajamarca) implemented a monitoring plan in 2020 for the provision of sanitation services that envisaged technical assistance for the JASS and operators through virtual rural sanitation networks.  

In 2021, the ATMs prepared a face-to-face technical assistance plan, prioritizing the monitoring of five drinking water service indicators: quantity, quality, continuity, state of infrastructure, and tariff. These indicators provide a rapid response to those JASS that require greater technical assistance in the face of problems that arise in rural sanitation service provision.  

Monitoring of Service Delivery Quality 

"We cannot just stare out the window" is the phrase that has been prompting regional and local technical teams to continue the fight against COVID-19. This experience has strengthened and motivated the regional technical teams to continue providing technical assistance for municipalities in a coordinated manner, and implementing programs and projects in the "regional strategies" to reach Everyone Forever in water and sanitation. 

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