By Guillermo Saavedra*
In Chile, approximately 1,700 community organisations supply water to 13 percent of the Chilean population in rural areas. They are non-profit organisations that manage the operations and administration of services for rural populations. First established in 1964, and successful for over 50 years, a new national law on Rural Sanitation Services has been introduced to focus these efforts on addressing current gaps and future challenges.
The law focuses on filling gaps in sanitation provision, climate change challenges, and improving service quality. It also aims to stimulate efficient public/community alliances to improve water services and contribute towards accomplishment Sustainable Development Goal 6 in Chile.
Chile is not unique. Around 30 percent of rural populations in Latin America and the Caribbean depend on community-managed water supply and sanitation services. The United Nations have identified two priorities necessary to achieve SDG 6 in the region: solving the lack of access in water and sanitation; and achieving the sustainability of community organisations that provide these services in rural areas across the region.
However, their long-term financial and governance sustainability is not yet assured. Considering the key role these organisations play in delivering critical services to poorer and often more marginalised communities, in Chile and elsewhere in the region, strengthening their management capacity and technical skills could be a low-cost solution that has impact.
Since January 2017, the approval of Chile’s new Rural Sanitation Services Law has given new rights and responsibilities to the sector. It emphasises the importance of the sector in promoting its own sustainability, with a particular focus on rural sanitation.
In response, the National Federation of Sanitation and Water Services (FESAN) has proposed a National Capacity Building Plan (PNFC). The goal of the PNFC is to strengthen the management capacity of community organisations, while preserving their participative character. It focuses on ensuring social equity, with fair and affordable rates for the most disadvantaged sectors of society; and, in compliance with the new norms introduced by the law, the social and environmental sustainability of water resources.
Both community leaders and water operators have mostly learned how to deal with these issues over time by trial and error. That may have been legitimate previously, but today the level of complexity of the tasks, functions and procedures that must be carried out requires a comprehensive training programme. The establishment of self-managed Community Learning Centers, allow community organisations to acquire the knowledge, experience and tools that enhance technical, legal, operational, administrative, financial, behavioural and social skills.
The training program was implemented in 2016-17, as a pilot project. It has proved very successful in Central Chile with sixty participants from forty rural services, including management and staff. Through the training, Water Supply Services (APRs) can develop and improve their management, financial and operational services. The participation of Universidad de Santiago, will allow the PNFC to be validated academically with the awarding of a Diploma.
Under the rural sanitation services law, these organisations will all participate in long-term investment plans, development work, extension and network upgrades. All in all, with the participation of the state and its investments to improve the system, the sustainability of the water supply system and the delivery of improved sanitation in rural areas should be much progress. As will the development of staff capacities, enabling them to apply more efficient strategies, procedures and methodologies to achieve integrated and sustainable water management.
Through the 1,700 small rural and sanitation services at least 3,500 people who work in them will receive training, and that will positively impact the 2 million Chileans living in rural areas. The benefits of the programme will also reach beyond these rural communities, helping the nation achieve its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.