For many in Ecuador, water shortages are a part of daily life. With the country’s population increasing from 8 million to 18 million in just 40 years, population growth puts pressure on unstable water systems and leads to more of Ecuador’s land being used. According to the United Nations, only 67% of the population has access to safely monitored drinking water, illustrating the gravity of water scarcity in Ecuador.
Poor land and forest management is one of the main causes of water scarcity in Ecuador. Since the federal government has no water policy, the well-being of watersheds is overlooked. As a result, citizens using land for livestock and agriculture threaten the quality of freshwater sources. Water pollution from pesticides and human waste, as well as desertification from overuse of farmlands, makes Ecuador’s water supply unacceptable for daily consumption or use.
Rural and isolated lands are hit especially hard by the lacking water infrastructure in Ecuador. As more forests are cleared to make space for cities and towns, trees and vegetation do not catch water and soak it up for use later in the dry season. For instance, Zaruma, located on the dry Andean slopes, cannot sustain its cattle or agriculture during the dry season when it only receives two to four hours of water per day.
What are Water Funds?
However, municipalities of rural and urban areas are putting their efforts together in organizations called water funds. As defined by The Nature Conservancy, water funds occur when towns, cities, companies, residents and other water users use financial mechanisms to protect their water sources.
With a focus on watershed conservation, water funds are helping both the people and the environment. Providing citizens with a sanitary source of water ensures fewer people catch waterborne illnesses like E. coli and more citizens can make a living. In an economy dominated by agriculture where clean water is necessary to care for crops and cattle, water scarcity in Ecuador puts impoverished rural communities at risk.
The Work of FORAGUA
The Regional Water Fund of Southern Ecuador (FORAGUA) is one of many water funds working in Ecuador. Targeting 14 municipalities and 500,000 residents, FORAGUA requires community residents to pay $1 per month for water consumption. The price is not demanding for locals, and 90% of the funds go towards water conservation efforts.
FORAGUA uses its funds to purchase land or enter into agreements with farmers with the intention of allowing the environment to regrow its natural vegetation. Residents receive an income for letting their land rewild, meaning farmers cannot cut trees or native plants. While giving watersheds the time to restore themselves, FORAGUA also provides rural dwellers with funds. With the rural poverty rate in Ecuador at 43%, a consistent income provided by the water fund helps communities dependent on cattle and agriculture avoid poverty.
FORAGUA is tackling poverty among farmers in a sustainable way. The water fund has so far restored 3,700 acres of land and planted 400 trees for every 160 acres to optimally protect ecosystems. Allowing lands once occupied by humans to return to their original states allows for biodiversity to advance as natural fauna and flora can flourish.
Even though water scarcity in Ecuador remains a pressing issue, water funds are innovative financial mechanisms protecting citizens’ water accessibility by restoring the environment. At the intersection of environmentalism and humanitarianism, FORAGUA demonstrates how communities can come together to tackle financial instability among rural individuals while simultaneously helping the planet.
– Meilyn Farina