A small landlocked country bordering Brazil in South America, The Plurinational State of Bolivia has a population of approximately 11 million people. In the past 10 years, despite the drought in 2017 that left even the country’s elite without water, both the government and international organizations have made great strides towards improving sanitation in the country. Here are eight facts about sanitation in Bolivia.
8 Facts About Sanitation in Bolivia
- In the 2009 constitution, the Bolivian government determined that access to water and sanitation in the country is a fundamental human right. This law provides legal and governmental acknowledgment and support for people lacking proper sanitary services. After the implementation of this law, the government tried different solutions to see which would produce the most comprehensive results. There was a “big-system” water allocation using large piping systems in urban areas. In the meantime, rural areas used “small-systems” focused on community-run structures. This was all in a governmental effort to show devotion for better sanitation in Bolivia.
- International organizations such as Water for People provide Bolivians with water and sanitation services. Water for People has been implementing sanitation in Bolivia since 1997. The organization promotes the construction of handwashing stations at schools and provides small loans to purchase materials such as toilets. In addition, it provides sinks for better sanitation practices in households. This organization alone has given 78 percent of households access to clean water in Bolivia.
- The elimination of public defecation is a huge goal of the United Nations. Public defecation causes disease and water pollution. According to the U.N. Progress report, there has been an approximate 20 percent decrease in public defecation since 2000 in Bolivia. However, in rural areas, the public defecation rate still remains at around 38 percent as of 2017. To address these issues, organizations are building private toilets to keep drinking water and sewage water separate.
- Clean water is essential to proper hygiene and sanitation. In 2017, Bolivia achieved almost 100 percent of basic clean water in urban areas. Additionally, the rural regions have 78 percent of drinking water available. The ability to wash hands, take showers, drink safely, brush teeth and clean vegetables are all possibilities with access to clean water.
- Schools and households have strengthened sanitation in Bolivia with the creation of community handwashing stations. However, the state has stations readily available for only approximately 25 percent of its people. In efforts to raise these numbers, the government is working with international organizations such as UNICEF. Together, they want to raise awareness of the necessity of these facilities and the need for implementation. In 2010, UNICEF and the Ministry of Environment and Water began a Water and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program in two regions. They also did this in 10 schools aiming to teach children about hygiene and sanitation in Bolivia. Doing so raises awareness on issues like the harmful effects of open defecation and the importance of clean water sources. The findings showed that schools did not always provide maintenance and extras like locks.
- Along with the construction of sanitation sites, there needs to be a plan for long-term management and maintenance of the facilities. According to the World Health Organization, there is a lack of information from the health sector and rural areas still have a shortfall in resource availability. Due to these factors, it is difficult to see a clear picture of progress. In the future, it will be important for Bolivian officials to release all information available so the country can reach further solutions.
- There are many innovative sanitation methods in the country. Educating the public about sanitary habits and improving governmental guidelines are vital methods. Another innovative method is starting community-run projects to build and maintain sanitation services. Also, encouraging gender equality to avoid gender-based violence regarding sanitation and water will also help the country. Efforts by UNICEF and other organizations, after using these approaches, have improved sanitation in Bolivia to 32 percent in rural areas and 82 percent in urban areas
- Menstrual health is a key component missing from sanitation in Bolivia. A study that UNICEF conducted in 2012 found that girls stay home from school because of menstruation. This is because others might tease them because of odor, stains, lack of proper materials or cramps that accompany girls during puberty. There is a theme of shame and embarrassment that arises because of the lack of menstrual education, and such a natural process often confuses and scares girls. In the 10 schools that the study observed, all 10 began offering menstrual education. In contrast, none had sanitary napkins available. Due to the average of 1.2 toilets and 0.5 handwashing stations per school, it is very rare that sanitary napkins are available to girls in rural areas considering the lack of resources. Because of this, UNICEF continues to spread awareness and funds to bring menstrual education and sanitary napkins to schools.
Despite the progress to provide citizens with basic necessities, there is still substantial inequalities between rural and urban communities regarding management and access to sanitation in Bolivia. The trend in multiple charts and studies has been that urban areas receive higher amounts of resource allocation than rural counterparts. To address these inconsistencies, international organizations like Water for People and UNICEF have focused on rural populations to curb the inequalities in sanitation.
– Ashleigh Litcofsky