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Governance of environmental sanitation in Latin American cities

Published on: 09/08/2011

Cities in Latin America face a double challenge in environmental sanitation, of both providing access to basic water supply and sanitation for those currently lacking that, and improving the collection and treatment of wastewater and solid waste. Governance is a crucial factor affecting the way in which these challenges can be met. This report looks into governance arrangements in four Latin American cities: Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Cali (Colombia), Lima (Peru) and Tegucigalpa (Honduras).

Cities in Latin America face a double challenge in environmental sanitation, of both providing access to basic water supply and sanitation for those currently lacking that, and improving the collection and treatment of wastewater and solid waste. Governance is a crucial factor affecting the way in which these challenges can be met. The last decades have seen a package of governance reforms, such as decentralisation, the establishment of independent regulators and water resources authorities, and democratization of decision-making procedures. However, the degree to which these reforms have actually been implemented and worked out is different in the countries and cities of the region. This report looks into governance arrangements in four Latin American cities: Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Cali (Colombia), Lima (Peru) and Tegucigalpa (Honduras). These cities are all seeing efforts to address environmental sanitation in a more integrated manner; addressing governance aspects is integral to these efforts. Understanding current governance arrangements provides the basis for these. This report provides an analysis of the actual governance arrangements in these cities, and looks into similarities and differences between them. It also provides conclusions and recommendations for addressing governance in efforts to develop integrated approaches to urban environmental sanitation.
 
The types of governance reforms mentioned above have also been implemented in the four case cities, albeit in different ways. The institutional frameworks are therefore all different. Yet, some trends are observed. First of all, all frameworks are characterised by a high degree of specialization in the roles fulfilled by the different organisations. Water supply and sanitation service provider roles are separated; water resources authorities and independent regulators are established, and specific roles assigned to civil society groups. This specialisation necessarily means a corresponding level of fragmentation of roles and functions over different organisations. In itself, this is not a problem, as long as there is coordination and integration between these actors in planning processes. Specific mechanisms for integrated planning are needed and were seen, including the municipal sanitation council in Belo Horizonte, or participatory budgeting processes in Lima and Belo Horizonte. Water resources institutions, such as catchment authorities or stakeholder platforms potentially have an integrating role as well, but they require instruments to carry out their role. Where these mechanisms are lacking, stakeholders were found to be developing and implementing their own organisational plans, rather than sectoral plans. Besides, civil society is then often excluded from decision-making processes. Leadership by local government was found to be crucial to achieve coordination and integration between these organisations.
 
Important progress has been made in establishing control and accountability mechanisms at different levels: between water and sanitation service providers and local authorities, between service providers and independent regulators, and between community groups and authorities. Although these can all be strengthened, these were considered having a positive effect on more transparent and accountable decision-making.
 
Finally, the report looked into the capacity of stakeholders to carry out their functions. It was found that financial capacity is mostly not considered a main limiting factor in governance. But, there are some gaps in terms of human resources, such as the capacity to follow more participatory approaches, and the capacity of community groups and civil society organisations to engage meaningfully in decision-making processes on sanitation improvements. This is related to their limited access to and use of information on innovative and more integrated approaches to urban environmental sanitation.
 
The study concludes that standard elements of sector reforms, such as decentralisation, the establishment of regulating entities and setting-up water resources authorities are important components in the strengthening of governance over sanitation. But, the study also shows it shouldn’t stop there. Strengthening capacity at different levels and developing mechanisms for inclusive and integrated planning, with its accountability mechanisms, are equally important. It is therefore recommended that the initiatives towards more integrated urban environmental sanitation, such as the ones described in this report, focus on pragmatically working with city stakeholders in activities such as joint planning and facilitating access to and use of information.

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