Millions in Latin America have to fight the coronavirus without drinking water

Established by the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the basic recommendations to avoid the spread of coronavirus is frequent hand washing with soap and water. However, in Latin America, this simple recommendation can be difficult to fulfill since the region coexists with a constant contradiction.

Although it has 31 percent of the world's fresh water sources, almost 37 million people do not have access to potable water, according to World Bank sources. On the other hand, according to a joint UNICEF-WHO monitoring program, 82% of the Latin American population has access to safe drinking water, while only 37% to safe sanitation.

"In Venezuela, the pandemic came to us in the midst of the largest water supply crisis in the country's history in the last 50 years. It has been estimated that between 85 and 90% of people do not have access to water due to pipes on a regular basis, among them a percentage that should approach 20% does not receive a water supply for periods that can range from three weeks to several months, "laments Alejandro Álvarez Iragorry, of Clima21 – Environment and Human Rights, in an interview with DW. "This situation forces many people to buy water at increasing costs or to resort to informal sources, including contaminated water," he added.

Looking for alternatives to not having water continuously

In Mexico, the situation is also critical. According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), only 53.6% of Mexicans have daily access to water in their home. Likewise, access to the water network does not guarantee that the precious resource is available 24 hours a day in Latin America. In this sense, taking into account its high population density, CDMX becomes one of the points of greatest attention to prevent infections.

For this reason, both in the Mexican capital and in other cities, local authorities are ensuring the provision of drinking water to all citizens. "The alternatives are water distribution through tankers, as well as keeping wells and plants operational," Hugo Contreras, Director of Latin American Water Security for The Nature Conservancy and Latin American Alliance of Water Funds, told DW.

They are joined by other measures. "Rainwater harvesting is an alternative source of high-quality water supply, independent of centralized systems," Nabani Vera of Isla Urbana told DW. Founded more than a decade ago, this initiative has already installed more than 20,000 rain collection systems that provide between 5 and 8 months of clean water to more than 120,000 people in Mexico.

This alternative offers advantages in the current pandemic context. "On the one hand, the systems can be specifically placed in areas where a severe crisis is found; on the other hand, a rain collection system provides a tool to self-manage the resource, which in the context in which we we found, for the most affected families it can be seen reflected directly in health issues, "he added.

Indigenous knowledge and nature-based solutions

This system is also used by the native peoples of the country. "The Zapotec people of Valles Centrales de Oaxaca have been carrying out water collection works for many years. Basically it is about harvesting water in holes built for this purpose," the executive president of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of America reminded DW. Latina and the Caribbean (FILAC), Mirna Cunningham. "The works have worked very well because their aquifers are the ones that distribute water in the city of Oaxaca leaving them without a drop," he added, pointing.

While in Bolivia the communities practice water sowing, in Peru water is captured from the mist. "As part of the program that we have with the International Climate Protection Initiative (IKI) we are developing a project called Blue Energy that is evaluating the feasibility of linking cloud forest conservation with resilience mechanisms for hydro-generation electric power plants "Contreras advanced.

According to the United Nations World Report on the Development of Water Resources in 2017, only 28% of water is treated in lower-middle-income countries and 8% in low-income countries.

"One of the biggest lags in the region is sewage sanitation. However, to achieve this we need to expand the infrastructure for sewerage and wastewater treatment, as well as develop networks for its distribution," said Contreras, noting that "as part of a more comprehensive vision of infrastructure and water management "should be incorporated into nature-based solutions such as conservation, reforestation, wetlands and best agricultural practices.