Though Ecuador has plenty of water resources, water distribution within the country is not equitable and tensions there are high with regard to water access and water use. In the Chambo River drainage basin, situated in the heart of the Central Andes in Ecuador, actors with very different interests (such as local communities, the city of Riobamba – a regional capital city of 150,000 inhabitants and currently in a period of high demographic growth –, companies, and smallholder families) are competing in a very lopsided struggle for access to water. The Indian communities, which have long been marginalized and have long had to fight for their access to irrigation water, now fear that they will lose their water rights to cities and urban areas that are also in need of water.
With the firm belief that water-related problems will not be resolved simply by building infrastructure, but by the way in which the resource is managed and shared, AVSF and CESA (Centrale Equatorienne de Services Agricoles, an Ecuadorian NGO) decided in 2007 to help create a mechanism to encourage cooperation. The mechanism enables all actors to negotiate mutually beneficial agreements regarding the distribution and management of water and to pool together their technical and financial means so that everyone is involved in the efforts to protect this resource. The initial focus of this mechanism was to diagnose the situation and ensure that information was being transmitted transparently and made available to everyone, which is a fundamental part of the decision-making process. Later, the mechanism went on to promote dialogue between actors in Ecuador as well as various actors involved in water management in France (communities, user associations, the Agence de l’Eau Seine-Normandie).
When the diagnosis was made public, the city of Riobamba immediately initiated large-scale projects to renovate its (totally obsolete) distribution and sanitation network. But the results are even more far-reaching: the creation of a drainage-basin committee made up people representing various users, including smallholders who use irrigation; the creation of a financial instrument for awareness-raising activities that focus on the management and protection of water; the first signs of political water-sharing agreements between the city of Riobamba and the Indian irrigation users; the collective creation of a water-management plan for the Chambo basin; the funding of pilot investments (stations for treating wastewater from a dyeing factory and from the rural community of Pulingui) to incite the local public authorities to become more directly involved in working to improve the provision and quality of water.
This experiment (still in progress) is a testament to the importance and relevance of cooperation when it comes to managing water in a socially responsible manner – as opposed to simply building new infrastructure. Cooperation includes helping to manage conflicts, reforming the rules that stipulate how water is to be shared, redefining the rights and obligations of users, and creating institutions that are capable of efficiently overseeing the management and protection of water. The experiment also invites actors involved in cooperation work, particularly French communities and water agencies, to recognize the major challenge of the future regarding water: working to protect water resources and promote the equitable sharing of water, particularly between cities and rural areas, in order to ensure that everyone has access to water. Doing so will help ensure that smallholders, who play an important role when it comes to food security, have access to water.
Check out the following publication from RURALTER-Praxis: "Protéger, partager et gérer de manière durable la ressource en eau dans les Andes centrales d'Equateur" [”SUSTAINABLY PROTECTING, SHARING, AND MANAGING WATER RESOURCES IN THE CENTRAL ANDES OF ECUADOR”]
Click on the video below to hear from Guillaume Juan, a technical assistant involved in this project.
Video by Bruno Forand