Peru’s strong economic development has helped improve access to water and sanitation services , , , . Access to at least improved water sources increased from 86.1% to 90.8% from 2013 to 2019, countrywide. However, marked disparities persist; in 2019 access was still 75.6%, 76.9%, and 88.8% in rural zones, the Selva, and the Sierra regions, respectively, versus 94.9% in urban zones and 95% in the Costa region. One fifth of rural households had to use unimproved or surface (i.e., rivers, streams, etc.) water sources in 2018. Overall, the supply is discontinuous; urban population with access to drinking water received this service 18.7 h/day on average in 2020 (only two public utilities provided 24 hour service).
Access to improved sanitation facilities improved from 67.5% to 77.2% from 2013 to 2019, countrywide. But access in 2019 was only 28.3%, 50.6%, and 64.5% in rural zones, the Selva and the Sierra regions, respectively, compared to 90.4% in urban zones and 90.1% in the Costa region. Some 25.7% of rural households had no access to improved sanitation facilities and dumped their waste in rivers, channels, or practiced open defecation in 2018.
Drainage infrastructure is also unequally available. Drainage networks are available in most urban zones and reach a high coverage in major cities such as Lima metropolitan area (96.2%) and the Callao department (95.6%), but they encompass only 29.3% of rural households.
Wastewater treatment has improved over the last few years , , , . The fraction of wastewater collected by public drainage networks that was treated prior to being discharged into waterbodies or used for irrigation increased from 46.2% in 2013 to 77.5% in 2020, mainly thanks to the construction and operation of two large new wastewater treatment plants to serve the southern districts of Lima and Callao. Nevertheless, 22.5% (i.e., 270,049,280 m3) of the wastewater collected countrywide by public drainage networks were discharged untreated into aquatic ecosystems in 2020.
The lack of proper sanitation and sewerage collection and treatment systems can compromise the supply of potable water as water sources become contaminated with human waste and other pollutants, exposing the population to parasites and waterborne diseases. This is critical in major cities such as the Lima-Callao metropolitan area (over 10 million people in 2017) and Arequipa (over one million inhabitants), whose effluents pollute the Rimac and Chili rivers, respectively. The mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and lack of hygiene (SDG indicator 3.9.2) in Peru was estimated at 1.3 per 100,000 people in 2016 , the tenth highest rate in the LAC region.
Peru’s water supply issues are due not so much to the availability of water resources but rather to the highly heterogeneous and conflicting geographical distribution of water resources and the population and economic activities , . Access to water and sanitation services issues are, on the other hand, due to the insufficient financial and technical resources commanded by local governments .
With an average annual rainfall of 2,347 mm, Peru receives enough water to not suffer water scarcity problems. The total amount of renewable (surface and groundwater) water potentially available every year is 2,484,078 Mm3; with a population of 31,237,385 people (as of 2017), this would allow some 79,523 m3 of water to be available per person per year on average, the 12th largest availability rate in the world.
This water is unevenly distributed across the country. The country’s territory has been subdivided into three major watersheds (hydrographic regions, strictly): the Amazonian watershed comprises 74.5% of the country’s area, receives some 2,400 mm of rain per year, and gets 98.2% of all the renewable water available in the country; the Pacific watershed comprises 21.7% of the territory, receives almost no rain, and holds only 1.6% of the water available; and the Titicaca watershed, which comprises 3.8% of the country’s area, receives 700 mm of rain every year, and contains 0.3% of the renewable water available.
Total water consumption in Peru is estimated at 37,259.04 hm3/yr, as of 2018 , . Most (86%) of this water is used in agriculture and livestock ranching, followed by manufacture and services (7%), human consumption (5%), and mining (1.6%). Water utilized for non-consumptive uses is estimated at 61,028.7 hm3, most of which (98%) is used for electricity generation.
However, the country’s population and economic activities have been historically concentrated in the Costa region : about 65% of the country’s population, 73.8% of the irrigated agricultural land, and most industrial activities. Thus, 74.4%, 72.1%, and 88.4% of all the water used countrywide for agriculture, human consumption, and industry and services, respectively, is used up in the Pacific watershed. Per capita water availability in this watershed is only 1,926 m3 per year on average and, in some parts, is even lower than 1,000 m3/person/yr, indicating chronic water stress conditions. For example, water availability in the Rimac river watershed, where Lima city is located, is only 125 m3/ person/yr, indicating absolute water scarcity. In contrast, 31.6% of the country’s population reside in the Amazon watershed, where each person has as much as 246,846 m3 of water available every year. Only 3.5% of the population reside in the Titicaca watershed, each person having 6,209 m3 of water available per year.
Population and economic development both heavily concentrated in the Costa region have created a large demand for water, posing enormous pressure on the Pacific watershed’s water resources. Over 71% of the watershed’s entire supply of renewable water is consumed every year, making the region highly vulnerable to climate variability and droughts. In fact, a water deficit emergency was declared in all the departments of the Pacific watershed in 2016 . The still growing population of Peru, with high and increasing urbanization, and plans to further develop its industrial and agro-industrial sectors, will put significant additional pressure. Climate change is expected to reduce the availability and increase the variability of water resources, thus further straining the supply of water.
Access to water and sanitation services in major urban areas has improved considerably over the last years, but significant deficits remain in small cities and rural areas . In major urban areas these services are provided by dedicated, not-for-profit public utilities (Empresas Proveedoras de Servicios, EPS), the operation of which is regularly overseen by a national supervisory authority (the Superintendencia Nacional de Servicios de Saneamiento, SUNASS). As a result, the coverage and quality of water supply and wastewater collection and treatment services in urban zones have been steadily improving , , , . A total of 50 EPS were operating across the country in 2020; these supplied drinking water to 89.9% (some 18.76 million people or 72.7% of the country’s urban population) and drainage services to 83.8% (some 17.49 million people or 67.8% of the country’s urban population) of the people in their jurisdictions and treated 77.5% of the wastewater collected through drainage networks. However, eight EPS had no wastewater treatment plant and discharged the wastewater collected directly into rivers, lakes, or the coastal sea, with no prior treatment.
Water and sanitation services in small cities (those with 2,001–15,000 inhabitants) and rural areas are, in contrast, provided by the local government (municipalities) — either directly or through third-party entities — or are not available at all. Some 25,000 entities providing water and sanitations services in small cities and rural areas had been identified in 2019, many of which with limited technical and material capacities and providing suboptimal services .
Although locally differentiated fees are to be paid by the users of water and sanitation services, these are regarded as contributions rather than as charges for the services. Those reduced fees do not cover the actual cost of the services and yet many users are unable to pay them. Thus, the operation, maintenance, and improvement of water and sanitation utilities relies on transfers from, and investments made by, the central government. This is the main cause of regional gaps in access to water and sanitation services: 71% of the investments made in this sector have targeted urban zones.
Key policies and governance approach
Peru has constructed, over the last decade or so, a comprehensive policy, regulatory, and institutional framework for protecting and sustainably using the country’s water resources , , , , .
Overall guidelines are set by the 2012 National policy on water resources (33th National Policy) , which declares the government’s commitment to protect water resources as a national heritage and to meet the fundamental human right of access to water. It aims at implementing integrated water resources management with institutional and multisectoral participation as the means to achieve the rational, equitable, and sustainable use of water.
Planning instruments to attain the policy’s objectives by matching water supply with demand, preserving water quality and quantity, and promoting the efficient use of water, include the 2015 National Policy and Strategy on Water Resources , the 2013 National Water Resources Plan , and the Watershed-level Water Resources Management Plans. Management plans for six watersheds have been formulated and adopted as of 2021.
The National Water Authority (ANA) was created in 2008 as the country’s top technical-regulatory authority on water resources. The ANA is responsible of governing the integrated, sustainable, and multisectoral management of water resources; issuing national policies and strategies on water resources; and regulating water rights to achieve the equitable distribution of water.
The National System for Water Resources Management was established in 2008 as a coordination platform for articulating the operation of the various government agencies and stakeholders with competency on and functions related to water management in the country.
Watershed-level Councils are established to ensure the participatory management of water in each hydrographic unit, through the formulation and implementation of the corresponding Watershed-level Water Resources Management Plan.
The principal regulatory instrument is the 2009 Water Resources Act . The law declares water as part of the national heritage. The law regulates the use and the integrated management of water resources, as well as the acts of the government and private citizens in relation to inland, surface and ground waters and their associated assets. Specific regulatory instruments include, for instance, the 2020 Framework Law on the Management and Delivery of Sanitation Services .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Many efforts have been made recently or are ongoing to construct and implement a much-needed policy and regulatory framework for Peru’s water supply and sanitation sector. In fact, Peru fared well in its latest progress report on SDG indicator 6.5.1 – the degree of implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). It scored above the regional average on almost all the indicators of three (enabling environment, institutions and participation, and financing) of the four (except for management instruments) dimensions of IWRM. Overall progress in implementation improved from low to medium-low level from the 2017 report to the latest one in 2020 .
These indicators show countrywide results and hide regional/local heterogeneity. The substantial improvements made over the last decade or so in access to water, sanitation facilities, drainage infrastructure, and wastewater treatment have been mostly realized in major urban zones. Considerable investments are still necessary to bring comparable improvements to small cities and rural areas, particularly in the Sierra and Selva regions.
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Integrated Water Resources Management in the Lake Titicaca- Desagüadero river-Poopó river-Salar de Coipasa System project aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of water resources in this transboundary system by updating the Master Management Plan to be implemented by the Binational (Peru-Bolivia) Authority of Lake Titicaca. The project runs from 2017 to 2022.
The Integrated Water Resources Management for the Puyango-Tumbes, Catamayo-Chira, and Zarumilla Transboundary Watersheds and Aquifers project is funded by the GEF. The project aims to improve the institutional, political, regulatory, and scientific-technical capacities of the Peru and Ecuador governments in order to implement Integrated Water Resources Management in the transboundary aquifers and basins Puyango-Tumbes, Catamayo-Chira and Zarumilla.
A World Bank loan for implementing the Integrated Management of Water Resources in Ten Watersheds project was approved in 2017. The project aims at improving water resource management in ten priority watersheds by strengthening the capacities of the relevant national, regional, and local institutions; and improving the technical infrastructure (measurement equipment and instruments) for continuous, real-time water monitoring.
Goals and Ambitions
The National Environmental Plan (2011-2021)  aims to properly treat 100% of domestic wastewater from urban zones, and reuse 50% of them, by 2021.
Priority objectives of the National Sanitation Plan 2022-2026  include: reducing deficiencies in sanitation services in rural areas by focusing efforts on the population without access to services, prioritizing those with limited resources; improving the financial sustainability of the services by increasing the generation of revenue by the utilities and its efficient use; building and strengthening the managerial capacities of the utilities; fortifying the utilities’ infrastructure by implementing specific sanitation projects; and enhancing the appreciation and valuation of sanitation services by developing a citizen culture of valuing sanitation services.
Many efforts have been made recently or are ongoing to construct and implement the policy and regulatory framework for Peru’s water supply and sanitation sector. Correspondingly, substantial improvements have been recently made in improving access to water, sanitation facilities, drainage infrastructure, and wastewater treatment in major urban zones.
Bringing comparable improvements to small cities and rural areas, particularly in the Sierra and Selva regions, would require considerable investments both in financial and material terms, as in strengthening the technical and managerial capacities of local governments.
Increasing the fees paid by the users of water and sanitation services in small cities and rural areas might seem as a feasible avenue to improve, expand, and make water sanitation services sustainable. However, this simplistic view overlooks the heterogeneity in financial capacities and poverty levels across the various regions of the country , , .
 Naciones Unidas – Perú. 2021. Análisis Común de las Naciones Unidas en el Perú (draft).
 Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática. Estadísticas – Medio Ambiente. Retrieved October 2021
 World Health Organization Data. Retrieved October 2021
 Sistema Nacional de Información de Recursos Hídricos. Retrieved October 2021