Bolivia, like other Andean countries, has uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of water. With three large transboundary watersheds — namely, the Amazon River which is the world’s biggest watershed, the La Plata River system, and the Altiplano — parts of Bolivia are richly endowed with water resources, while others lack access. This variability creates significant pressures that make it difficult for water managers and communities to keep constant access to water that is clean and free of pollutants.

Besides climate-induced floods and water scarcity, rapid economic development and urbanization make it more challenging to get water to places that are short of resources. Water quality is deteriorating due to urbanization, mining, and lack of sanitation and pollution control from human waste. The sanitation situation, or access to clean drinking water and adequate sewage disposal, is challenging since only half of the population has access to sanitation; and most of the wastewater is discharged without treatment.

Furthermore, political instability has resulted in on-going changes in governance. Be it climate change or political instability, the most vulnerable communities are hit the hardest, especially in accessing safe drinking water and water for productive uses, necessitating the need to address these challenges and ensure access to safe water for all.

Tupiza women farmers sowing corn

Photo: Cecilia Tapia / Nextblue.

An integrated approach

“We aim to support water management in Bolivia in a comprehensive way,” says Marisa Escobar, Water Program Director at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), an international think tank working on energy, water, and climate change. “Only through integrated watershed management can we make clean water available to all communities, especially those in remote areas.”

In 2019, SEI started helping Bolivia connect WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and watersheds through the new Bolivia WATCH project, WATCH being an acronym for WASH Thinking Connected to Hydrology. The focus of Bolivia WATCH is the Choqueyapu, Tupiza and Pampa Huari watersheds. The three basins are different in scale, altitude, and biodiversity, but have the same challenges of water, sanitation, and waste.

This integrated approach of linking sanitation and hygiene to watershed management is quite new and addresses the issues of water management, poverty, migration, and WASH. This approach will contribute to sustainable water access in Bolivia.

The project is collaborating directly with 400 individuals as part of the co-production process and who are receiving training for the sustainability of the program in the three basins. Indirectly, the project will benefit abound 1 million people from cities and communities living in the basins.

Woman collecting water in the Tupiza River basin. Photo: Cecilia Tapia.

Community involvement

SEI and the local partners use Robust Decision Support, a participatory process to identify key players, collect data, develop tools and conduct capacity building. This helps them identify solutions that will benefit WASH and watershed planning.

A proper understanding of communities’ resources helps improve water management. Bolivia WATCH has developed tools to support decision-making, but it also recognizes the fact that people know and understand their own watershed better.

“Talking to people reveals local wisdom. This is why we ensure the collected information reflects local interests,” says Escobar. “It reflects in the watershed plan. Participatory approach bears results.”

She says that simple solutions emerge during interactions with community members, citing the example of installing tanks in remote areas.

This story was originally published by Nextblue. Read the full story here .