LexisNexis

Covid-19 reveals inequalities in access to Colombia’s water supply

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Nicolás Rocha

Gómez-Pinzón, Bogotá

nrocha@gomezpinzon.com

Lina Correa

Gómez-Pinzón, Bogotá

lcorrea@gomezpinzon.com

During the Covid-19 crisis, the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions has become essential in protecting human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that frequent and adequate hand hygiene is critical in preventing the spread of the virus. Covid-19 has made the need to guarantee the access to safe water to every human worldwide even clearer. Colombia is no exception, according to its Ministry of Housing, 92 per cent of the country’s population has access to drinkable water (drinking water).

With the WHO’s recommendations in mind, the Colombian government has taken several measures during the pandemic relating to water supplied through the public water utility service. This has included deferring bill payments for 24 to 36 months depending on the social status, the reconnection and reinstallation of the public water supplies for domestic users whose service was suspended or cut off, and the requirement of the local government authorities to ensure to all their population has access to drinking water. To enforce and regulate the measures taken by the Ministry of Housing, the Commission for the Regulation of Drinkable Water and Basic Sanitation determined that the above measures will remain in place until the Ministry of Health declares through a resolution that the sanitary emergency is over. It is worth noting that the Ministry has extended the sanitary emergency until 30 November 2020.

Regardless the measures taken by the Ministry of Housing aimed at providing all the Colombian population with drinking water, there is still an important inadequacy in access to an adequate and appropriate water supply infrastructure, and consequently to a safe and continuous supply of drinking water. Such a shortfall is demonstrated when comparing the access to water supply infrastructure in urban and rural populations. In urban areas, 90 per cent of the population has access, compared with only 29.7 per cent of rural population. Such a discrepancy is also demonstrated in measures taken by the Colombian government to address the Covid-19 pandemic, by ordering that in local government authorities where there is no access to water supply infrastructure, authorities must secure drinking water supply through other means such as water tankers and treated drinking water in containers, etc.

Groups particularly hardest hit by the urban/rural discrepancies in drinking water supply are Colombia’s minority populations including afro-descendants, indigenous communities, palanqueros, and others. This is especially worrying considering that the Colombian Constitutional Court has, through various rulings, given the access to drinking water the status of fundamental right. Other problems relating to the access to drinking water relates to Colombian inhabitants not covered by reconnection measures, such people can only access to drinking water through illegal connections are usually people that live on or below the breadline.

Nevertheless, despite there being problems yet to be solved, the Colombian government has accomplished other goals such as implementing 200,000 reconnections as of May 2020, and issuing guidelines aimed at minority communities.

Conditions which were not particularly evident before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Colombia have now come to light, and equal access to drinking water has become more important than ever. There are still problems to be solved, but the current crisis has created an opportunity for the Colombian government to implement new and modern public policies to grant access to an adequate and effective drinking water infrastructure.

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