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New water model points way to gender and social equality

SEI researchers teamed up with local partners to build a new kind of water model in a small Bolivian community. The results illuminate a path to ensuring policies help the most vulnerable.

Photo: Erlantz Pérez Rodríguez / Getty Images.

Date published
13 May 2019
A story from
Marquina, Bolivia

This impact story is from our 2018 annual report.

Valeriana Choque Zambrana and her family manage a small farm in Marquina, growing beans, corn and barley to eat at home and to sell in the market. But water demand in her community is increasing, and farmers like Valeriana fear that an increasingly unreliable water supply threatens their livelihood.

The community has asked local authorities to help them ensure water access and efficiency. But to enact policies that help the most vulnerable – and don’t exacerbate existing inequalities – policy-makers need models that incorporate gender and social equality aspects.

SEI set out to do that by teaming up with local partners to build a water model in SEI’s Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) software. Researchers included the supply and demand of small groups within Marquina – a departure from typical watershed models. This proved crucial to understanding underlying inequalities.

Illuminating disparities

Groups were differentiated based on their proximity to the canal system, the water rights of the farmers, and the gender of the water rights holders. Researchers then compared a typical water model of Marquina (in which the town was represented as one group) with this new approach (in which Marquina was split into 14 groups).

The results showed that inequalities can be missed in typical watershed models. While the typical model showed that water shortages are minor, the disaggregated model revealed that, for some groups, their water supply covers less than 50% of their demand. The model was also able to show that some groups do ot get the water to which they are entitled (based on water rights); others get their water, but it’s not enough for their crops.

These disparities are the result of various vulnerabilities. Some producers, for example, do not have water rights under the Mit’a, a collective system of management and maintenance that was first established during the precolonial period. Others have rights but aren’t getting the promised water, usually because they are downstream.

Women also deal with unique disadvantages. Although many gained water rights as men left to work in cities, they do not hold community leadership positions and they are not elected to represent irrigators. Women’s representation is thus limited in community-based decisions.

“We are few people, but we are still fighting to preserve the agricultural activity in our community.”
—Paulino Chavez, former leader of the Organization of Irrigators of Marquina

Applying lessons learned

SEI’s model provided a peek into how these dynamics affect the distribution of water, and it enables policy-makers to better plan for policies that are sustainable and fair.

The work in Marquina is just the beginning. With the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), SEI will further examine how to integrate poverty and gender considerations in both watershed and sanitation planning, though a new three-year project called Bolivia WATCH.

SDG 5

Gender equality

SEI’s work explores the gender dimensions of vulnerability, and opportunities for women to play a greater role in shaping sustainable development.

SDG5 co-benefits. SDG5 is connected to SDGs 1 and 6.

Connecting to the SDGs

This project developed a new kind of water model that illuminates the disparities within a watershed – including those with gender aspects. It is one step on the way to ensuring equitable access to, and responsibility for, water, sanitation and hygiene. The work also has co-benefits with SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 1 (no poverty).