Clean drinking water and sustainable water resource management in poor communities in the highlands

In the municipalities of Umala, Santiago de Machaca and Calacoto, which are participating in the project, 80% of the population on average have no access to clean drinking water. This means that people fall ill more often, and the water shortage is particularly dangerous for children. In the course of this project, water supply systems will be built in 13 communities, and the inhabitants learn about the construction and use of toilets/latrines. Water committees impart basic hygiene knowledge. The municipal authorities are included directly in supporting and monitoring the project activities.


Country / Region
Bolivia, Department La Paz, Municipalities of Umala, Santiago de Machaca and Calacoto

Target group
415 families or around 2,200 people in 13 communities of La Paz Department which have no access to clean drinking water

Funding requirement
681,237 Swiss francs

Project duration
01.07.2018 to 30.09.2021

Project number

Project objectives
The capacity of members of the community and the public authority to sustainably manage their water resources and ensure access to drinking water and sanitation is strengthened.

Project coordinator
Anja Ibkendanz, Tél: 041 419 22 44, aibkendanznot shown@caritasto make life hard for spam


Background information

Thanks to the favourable economic development and several social programmes, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been more than halved in the last 10 years. Despite this, almost 40% of the Bolivian population continue to live below the poverty line. Bolivia thus remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Bolivia has also made noticeable progress in recent years in the supply of drinking water to the population. However, there is still a significant disparity between urban and rural areas: While on a country-wide average, 94% of the urban population now has access to drinking water, among the rural population, this applies to only two thirds. Moreover, approximately 60% of the urban population have a functioning sewage system, while this is limited to just one quarter in the rural areas. In the three municipalities of Umala, Santiago de Machaca and Calacoto which participate in the project, on average 80% of the population have no access to clean drinking water, and more than half of the inhabitants have no toilets.

Living conditions in these arid and not very fertile zones at high altitude are very difficult, and a large proportion of the population lives in absolute poverty. The consumption of contaminated water and poor hygiene practices have a serious impact on the health situation of the population. Children are particularly vulnerable to stomach and intestinal diseases as well as itch mites. According to data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 30,000 children die each year in Bolivia as a result of diarrhoea, which is caused by lack of access to clean drinking water and poor hygiene habits.

Apart from the supply of water, its availability in the high altitude regions of Bolivia also presents a challenge. Unstainable agricultural practices, deforestation and the resulting erosion, as well as overgrazing of the water-retaining high-altitude moorland (páramos) have resulted, among other things, in many water sources now being completely or nearly dried up. Climate change further exacerbates the water shortage – drought and desertification, the retreat of glaciers and flooding are increasing, resulting in scarcity of drinking water and water for agriculture.

Despite the efforts at the national level within the framework of the National Plan for Watershed Management, implementation at the level of micro watersheds has so far been very ad hoc. In many instances, the communities lack the financial resources and know-how to develop and implement management plans and to take appropriate, correct measures for the protection of sources and the rational use of water. Participatory approaches and awareness-raising work were long neglected by the state, which meant that many measures fizzled out, without impact and sustainable management. Lack of management of the sources and other water resources, both in the communities but also across community boundaries, contributes to increasing pressure on the existing natural resources, and in particular on groundwater. 


What are we doing?

The current project is a continuation and broadening of two water projects which have been successfully implemented by our partner organisation Caritas Corocoro in two other municipalities of La Paz Department. These projects led to a noticeable improvement in the quality of life, particularly the health, of the participating families who, thanks to the installed household connections, now have water 24 hours a day, in sufficient quantity and quality for their consumption and personal hygiene.

This new project benefits a total of 415 families or around 2,200 people in 13 communities in the municipalities of Umala, Santiago de Machaca and Calacoto who currently have no safe drinking water source. Thanks to the project, these people get access to clean drinking water in sufficient quantity and quality and acquire the skills to erect their own sanitary facilities. In addition, they are given a basic knowledge of hygiene. The objective of the project is to make a contribution to the sustainable management of water resources and improved access to clean drinking water and hygiene in the Bolivian highlands.

In order to provide people with access to clean drinking water in sufficient quantity, water supply facilities are constructed in the 13 communities. Depending on the geological and hydrological conditions, they consist of pumping or gravity-fed water systems. With the support of the project, the water collection, the water distribution network, the household connections and other necessary infrastructures are installed or extended. All construction projects are integrated in the operational annual plans of the communities and entered in the corresponding household budgets with a contribution of 10 – 15% of the total costs. At the same time, the members of the community are made aware of the construction and use of toilets/latrines. The families are advised and supported by the project’s site engineer in constructing this facility.

In each community, a so-called water committee is established, which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the water supply installations, as well as the collection and administration of the consumption fees.

These bodies are a vital factor in the proper functioning and sustainability of the erected infrastructure. The consumption-based fees are another important aspect of the sustainable functioning of the facilities. They are used for the maintenance of the installations and for any necessary repair work.

A new element is the direct involvement of the municipal authorities in supporting and monitoring the project activities, in particular providing advice and support to the water committees. For this purpose, the competent technical staff of the municipal administration are trained by the project team. The idea behind this step is to make sure that the municipal authority will continue to perform this function even after the project has ended, and that this will better guarantee the proper functioning of the water committee and therefore the sustainability of the water supply systems. There is also a new focus on the protection of basic water sources, which ensure the availability of water in the communities to the greatest possible extent.

The aim of the project activities is to establish structures and instruments within and across the communities in order to implement common measures for the protection of the sources. This includes awareness-raising measures at the level of the community, the water committees and the authorities, in order to create awareness of the problem. In a second step, practical measures for the protection of the sources and the rational use of water will be implemented in the respective communities, within the framework of action plans devised in a participatory process.  


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