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Everyone Forever in Latin America: A systemic change in Peru

By Mark Duey, Chief programs officer, Water For People

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Throughout Latin America, community management is the model for managing drinking water services in rural areas. I personally know many community water committee members in the region who work very well and always on a voluntary basis. But at scale, community management poses enormous challenges regarding the sustainability of drinking water services. In many cases, community leaders in rural areas around the region have never received formal training on the management, administration, and finance, much less the operation and maintenance of drinking water systems that sometimes include tens of kilometers of  

Given this context, you can imagine how complex it is for a single rural community in Bolivia, Guatemala, or Nicaragua, for example, to ensure the supply of drinking water in their communities and for ,new generations. Now multiply this problem by 30,000 (estimated number of communities in Guatemala) or 85,000 (estimated number of communities in Peru), etc. It is estimated that there are over 70 million people in Latin American countries who depend on community management for drinking water service! 

This is one of the great secrets of the sector in our region. We know that community management works very well in San Geronimo because Doña Rosa is there, and she is a good president of the water committee and makes very good decisions. So, that’s great! Community management is a success! But wait a minute… What about the other 75 communities in this municipality that do not have a "Doña Rosa"? What happens there? 

Some already say that it is time to "throw in the towel" with the community management model, based on many experiences of the "sectorial" and "accepted" process of: 

  1. Building a Potable Water System 
  1. Organizing a Community Meeting to set up the Water Committee 
  1. Training the Committee in Management, Finance, Administration, Operation, and Maintenance 

o porque el dinero que le dio el tesorero para compra de cloro lo dio a su mujer para comprar medicina para su hija. 

"Ok!" some say. But the truth is that circumstances change. The president of the committee resigns after two years, or a new committee is elected. Or the system begins to fail so the association of users decides to reorganize the committee, but then, who trains the new committee members? Or the treasurer disappears with the committee savings. Or the plumber stopped chlorinating the water in the system because he went to Costa Rica to pick coffee, or he gave the money he received from the treasurer to buy chlorine to his wife to buy medicine for his daughter. 

But I have not lost hope. I haven’t thrown in the towel. The community management model can work. How? There is only one missing factor that no one mentions, and that is local and permanent technical assistance, normally from the local government. Water For People has managed to create and/or strengthen Municipal Water and Sanitation Offices in all the countries we work in. The acronym is different in each country…OMAS in Guatemala, UMAS in Nicaragua, DMSB in Bolivia, and ATM in Peru. The main role of these offices is to advise the water committees. Why should they be established and/or strengthened? 

  1. Because the law in almost all the countries we work in establishes that local governments are responsible for ensuring the ongoing operation of basic services in their municipal territory. 
  1. So that Water For People has a hope to exit these municipalities. Our model is Everyone Forever. Forever does not mean Water For People Forever! We set up and advise municipal water and sanitation offices so that these offices carry out all the necessary activities to provide service sustainability support to all the water committees in their territory. 
  1. Because the local government is one of the very few institutions operating on an ongoing basis. Many times, local NGOs depend on funding from national or international donors. They can leave the municipality at short notice if they run out of funds. 
  1. Because the first municipalities in the countries we work in that have achieved universal access to drinking water services have created Municipal Water and Sanitation Offices to speed up the process (for example: there are already six municipalities in Bolivia that have created these offices and now they are at 90% access). 
  1. Because some water management-related challenges cannot be resolved within the limits of a community, for example, water resources and the need to protect water-producing areas for the entire territory. Also because of financial resource management, for example, to be able to prioritize the replacement of infrastructure assets or apply intelligent subsidy models for bathrooms. 

Now, our region keeps another great secret in the sector. Municipal Water and Sanitation Offices in Latin America are virtually absent. These offices are only present in almost all of the countries Water For People works in. Or WaterAid works in. Or wherever the national government is investing in drinking water infrastructure projects. What can we do? 

Again, I have not lost hope. In Peru, there are around 1,800 districts nationwide in all 24 departments. Today, the government of Peru estimates that around 1,400 districts have established Municipal Water and Sanitation Offices. Wow! How did this happen? The short answer: an Incentive Program for Municipal Management Improvement run by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Here are some questions about this program, with answers from Francisco Soto, Country Director for Water For People in Peru. 


El Ministerio de Economía y Finanzasseñala, "El Programa de Incentivos a la Mejora de la Gestión Municipal se crea en el año 2009 mediante Ley N° 29332 que implica una transferencia de recursos a las municipalidades por el cumplimiento de metas en un período determinado. Dichas metas son formuladas por diversas entidades públicas del Gobierno Central. El programa de incentivos municipales es un instrumento del Presupuesto por Resultados." 

The Ministry of Economy and Finance points out, "The Incentive Program for Municipal Management Improvement was established in 2009 by Law No. 29332, which implies a transfer of resources to the municipalities for the fulfillment of goals over a specific period. These goals are formulated by various public Central Government bodies. The municipal incentive program is a Results-based budget instrument" 


The municipal incentive program does not only focus on water and sanitation. It has six objectives related to improvement of municipal tax collection and management, public investment project implementation, utility delivery improvement, business climate improvement, reduction of chronic child malnutrition, and disaster risk prevention. 


The Government of Peru classified the municipalities into four categories, according to their population. They all have different types of goals, but those Water For People works in, those we are interested in, include rural municipalities. Municipal goals for municipalities with rural characteristics but more than 500 urban dwellings include: 

  • As of July 2015 -Goal 11: Establishment of the Municipal Technical Area for water and sanitation services management. 
  • As of December 2015 -Goal 40: Operation of the Municipal Technical Area for water and sanitation services management and data collection. 
  • As of December 2016 -Goal 35: Budget allocation to the Municipal Technical Area in the 2017 Opening Institutional Budget for the operation and management of sanitation services in rural areas. 
  • As of December 2017 -Goal 35: Strengthening of the Municipal Technical Area for water and sanitation service management in rural areas. 

For municipalities with rural characteristics and less than 500 rural dwellings, municipal goals include: 

  • As of December 2016 -Goal 42: Establishment, adaptation or reactivation of the Municipal Technical Area for water and sanitation services management. 
  • As of December 2017 -Goal 41: Operation of the Municipal Technical Area for water and sanitation service management in rural areas. 

The goals are sequential and year after year, municipalities have been asked for a greater effort. Goals require carrying out a series of activities with indicators such as an assessment to their district, the registration of all their JASS (community potable water and sanitation committees), etc. 


Amounts vary, but we know that the Cascas District (a district we work in) received around USD 86,000 for meeting goals last year. This year the Government of Peru has allocated around USD 300 million to the program, nationwide. 


The main role of the ATMs is to provide technical advice to the JASS (community potable water and sanitation committees) in rural areas and establish and implement a municipal management plan for them. 


The main result is that over 1,400 ATMs have been established. Although not all of them work ideally, they are the existing cell that can be oriented towards the search for Everyone Forever. At this point, the incentive program should motivate achieving the goal of universal access with quality services. Will we achieve Sustainable Development Goal number 6, "Guarantee water availability and sustainable management and sanitation for all" in our region (I emphasize the word sustainable)? Much of the current discussions revolve around the universality of services and not around the word sustainable. We need to talk and work on both sides: universality and sustainability – Everyone Forever. For Latin America, Peru is a model to follow to achieve both. Nothing is certain, and I am not good at gambling, but, if necessary, my money would go for Peru. 

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