The socioeconomic conditions in Ecuador, and its commitments to fulfil international goals and programs, have positively favored the access to and quality of water services in the country, as of 2013. However, the global economic context of recent years, largely influenced by the COVID pandemic, calls into question the fulfilment of the committed goals .
In 2019, access to safe drinking water supplies stood at 67.8%. The population's access to basic sanitation services is 90.7%. And 89.1% have a facility to wash their hands with soap and water .
Compared to 2018, improvements can be observed in the quantity and quality of the differentiated sewage system, because while in 2018, 47.1% of the municipalities had differentiated sewerage, it increased to 48.4% during 2019 and as far as to 50.7% in 2020. Nevertheless, it is still palpable the lack of sewerage system for 3.2% of the municipalities in 2020, even if it has been solved from 3.6% in 2019 and 4.1% in 2018 .
The continuity of the distribution of the water service through the public network shows disparities by region. At the urban regional level, in the Sierra and Amazonia, the water service is available for 23 hours a day, without changes from 2018 to 2020. In the insular region, the continuity of the service has worsened from 13 hours a day in 2018, 9 hours a day in 2019, and only for 8 hours a day in 2020. The continuity of the public water service in the rural area during 2018 was 22 hours a day in the Sierra and Amazon, 19 (hours/day) on the Coast, and just 4 (hours/day) in the Insular Region , , .
Ecuador increased the wastewater treatment processes from 66.5% in 2018, 70.1% in 2019 and up to 73.8% in 2020. Those that do not treat wastewater have also decreased from 29.4% in 2018 and as low as 23% in 2020. Only 22.4% of the total water distributed nationwide enters wastewater treatment plants . It must be considered that water is a natural resource that is vulnerable to the impacts of the business and industrial sectors. The contamination that these economic sectors cause to the water, in turn, affects biodiversity; contributes to losses to the agriculture and fishing sectors; and damages the health of nearby populations .
Despite its enormous wealth, the protection of water by environmental and public authorities continues to be poor in Ecuador. It is undoubtedly difficult to accurately quantify the water resources available at the regional and national level . This lack of control by the environmental authorities and the lack of an adequate environmental culture complicates the management and protection of water resources and compliance with the regulations and laws that protect it . In addition, social and political conflicts are generated by the defence of water and the environment .
There are several problems in water management. For example, the socioeconomic inequal distribution of drinking water and sanitation services. The limited access is related to various factors such as variability of the geographical regions, the population growth, the pollution, overexploitation of the aquifers (coast), the decrease in flows (mountains), the reduction of the glaciers and the decrease of the paramos , , .
Different factors in the deficient management of water resources are problematic, since they lead to irregularity in the runoff and storage processes of water, the loss of biodiversity, the reduction of energy potential, the lowering of touristic attractiveness, high indexes of physical and chemical contamination with organic loads, toxic substances, hydrocarbons, and pathogenic microorganisms, that undoubtedly cause damage to the health of ecosystems and people , , .
Agricultural production is a polluting factor that has a negative impact on the environment, especially on water and land, and to human health due to the use of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides that are used to protect crops from pests and improve crop production , .
Mining activities also affect the availability and quality of water. The exploitation of minerals and metals causes ecological damage and impacts human health. In the same way, oil extraction processes affect water resources (lagoons, streams, rivers and seas) in various ways, since they generate solid and chemical waste due to drilling mud, accidents, spills, the operation of the wells, and the diversion of natural water courses. In addition, it should be considered that large amounts of water are required during mining and oil exploitation processes. Livestock and the different types of animal husbandry are another polluting factor due to the discharge of waste into bodies of water, which more frequently contaminates rivers and even generates environmental and health problems in nearby communities .
Key policies and governance approach
The political, regulatory, and institutional framework of Ecuador has been interested in the regulation and protection of natural resources favoring the protection and management of water resources .
The main axis of water management and protection is the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008, where water is considered a fundamental and inalienable human right.
Legal standards and regulations for the protection of the environment have been defined to serve as control, prevention, reduction and solution strategies for pollution and overexploitation of this resource. Within the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code, the Ecuadorian criminal legal system has criminalized environmental crimes and establishes criminal responsibilities in the case of crimes committed against nature .
The Organic Law of Water Resources, Uses and Exploitation of Water (2014) establishes the legal framework to guarantee the human right to water, as well as to regulate and control the authorization, management, preservation, conservation and restoration of water resources, consumption and use of water, comprehensive management and its recovery, in its different phases, forms and physical states in order to guarantee the "sumak kawsay" or good living and the rights of nature established in the Constitution .
In the pursuit of a better management of resources, institutional modifications have been made. In 2008, the National Secretariat for Water was created, which was merged with the Ministry of the Environment under the name of "Ministry of Environment and Water". But in 2021 by decree it was instituted as “Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition” and it is declared a priority to guarantee the right of access to water for present and future generations, as well as management for the conservation and restoration of water resources , , .
The national and international plans signed by Ecuador have contributed to the advancement of national development in various sectors, including water. The National Secretariat for Planning and Development monitors the efforts, while the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses guarantees the generation of statistical information for the National Development Plan and the priority strategy “Safe Water and Sanitation for All” .
Successes and remaining challenges
Due to the application of plans and strategies such as the National Development Plan 2017-2021 “Toda Una Vida” (2017), the Millennium Development Goals (2000) and the 2030 Agenda (2015), Ecuador has begun to ensure the conservation of water, its biodiversity, and the sustainable use of this resource. This nation has made progress in the connectivity of ecosystems, by increasing the areas under conservation status and environmental management at the continental, insular and coastal marine, thus reducing the areas with conservation gaps. Due to the generation of studies, it has been possible to declare coastal management areas, basins, and riverbanks, for their conservation . By the year 2021, an increase in the Water Protection Areas (5 new areas) was achieved, 71 irrigation and drainage projects were made viable, and a total of 61,895 hectares were managed .
Despite the progress, Ecuador faces great challenges to comply with the 2030 Agenda and will have to make great efforts to solve the delays and cover the needs related to the objectives of water, sanitation, and hygiene. According to the Sustainability Report, between 2020 and 2021, Ecuador went from 46th to 53rd place (out of 166) in the advancement of the SDGs. Among the goals to be met by 2030, an increase in environmental protection investments has been proposed, which should also serve to ensure the availability and access to water .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Since March 2016, Ecuador has been part of a pilot project with the objective of measuring the indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals. This program, which includes 12 countries, is carried out with the support of the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program and in coordination with the Joint Monitoring Program for Drinking Water and Sanitation (JMP), a WHO/UNICEF agency . On the subject: Clean Water and Sanitation, this project recorded progress in the availability of water and sanitation, since between 2014 and 2017, there was an increase of 5.5% in water coverage by public network, going from 66.4 % to 71.9% , , .
The "Mission Water and Sanitation for All" project aims to achieve universal and equitable access to safe water and sanitation, with quality, quantity, and continuity, with drinking water and sanitation as the main lines of action. For 2018, a first basket of projects that would impact 62 cantons was approved, of which 57% are aimed at rural areas .
Goals and Ambitions
The goals set by the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition in relation to water for the period from 2022 to 2025 include the development of a New Water Resources Law that guarantees the collective rights of social groups; the expansion of Water Protection Areas to achieve the macro goal of 284 thousand ha in 2025; increase potential irrigation and drainage area to 11,461 ha with technical feasibility; and contribute to the creation of 7 Water Funds by 2025. The ministry is also in charge of the National Irrigation and Drainage Plan, with the goal to reach 5 million irrigators. The National Drinking Water and Sanitation Plan is intended to cover the 221 cantons. They are also preparing the Launch of the National Plan for the Paramo Ecosystem, which will seek to guarantee a flow of 2.6 million litres of water per second for consumption and productive activities , .
- Ecuador has a wide range of development opportunities for the management and protection of its enormous water resources. Multiple institutions, organizations, and national and international entities together with the participation of industries, companies and citizens collaborate in the management, distribution, study, protection, and use of water. Legal and regulatory instruments can be applied and used to improve the capacity of managers to offer water, sanitation, irrigation, hydroelectric and industrial use services and ensure the protection of water resources. Making efforts to optimize the application of these legal frameworks is essential.
- The various national and international programs have favored progress in the protection and management of water resources and have helped increase water services that serve to improve the quality of life of the population and allow economic development. Continuing to develop and participate in national and international programs with water objectives will be beneficial for Ecuador. To achieve the national and international goals and objectives of protecting water resources and meeting the water and sanitation needs of the population, it will be very productive to improve the coordination of the various groups involved to take advantage of their approaches and capacities.
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