From September 18-20, I had the pleasure of attending the III Latin American Community Water Management Conference in Cuenca, Ecuador. Approximately 500 delegates from fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries gathered to discuss the successes and challenges of water and sanitation development, learn from each other, and make plans to move forward.
CLOCSAS, one of the event’s main organizers, is a confederation of Latin American water and sanitation organizations. Within the WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) community, CLOCSAS is a one-of-a-kind, continental-wide organization promoting partnerships, capacity building, and advocacy for water and sanitation in Latin America and the Caribbean.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was hearing Bernardo Toro speak. Toro is a Colombian educator and philosopher who speaks and advises on various topics relating to education and democracy. His articulate discourse in Cuenca focused on answering the question: If water is a public good, then who is “the public”? To answer this Toro states, “The leading indicator of poverty is lack of organization. The first step to eliminate poverty is through organizing.” This statement encapsulates the whole purpose of the III Conference and CLOCSAS.
From my personal conversations, interactions, and observations this event brought Toro’s words to life. At first, I saw people getting excited to return to their home countries to work on better organizational planning, capacity building, and advocacy. Reflecting on this, I see the III Conference as a means to an end — an end of foreign assistance and development especially in regards to WASH. For example: CLOCSAS and the various groups that form them are excellent models of how more sustainable access to WASH can occur through the creation and institutionalization of water and sanitation committees, boards, associations, municipal offices, etc.
Some of the main accomplishments of the conference were:
- CLOCSAS has validated statutes and a democratically elected board
- The official launch of the Unified Program for Capacity Building on Water and Sanitation
- Coordination, work, and friendship strengthened in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Paraguay defined as the venue for the IV Conference
I’m elated to have been a part of the III Conference and see first-hand the importance of self-organizing in relation to WASH access. As Toro suggests, organizing leads to in-country advocacy efforts which can connect people’s lives with policy — two areas that have little attention or investment.
Jackie is Research Associate at WASH Advocates. She previously spent two years building water systems in the highlands of Guatemala.