Ned Breslin: Bolivia, Abandoned No More

‘Cobertura Total Para Siempre,’ which translates to ‘Total Coverage Forever,’ is the municipality of Arani’s way of committing to the EVERYONE FOREVER program.

ned breslin water for people everyone forever wash water sanitation and hygiene bolivia mayor marcario alvarez cuesta pata arani

Photo courtesy of Water For People
The river on the left was the previous source of water for the community of Villa Carino. Now, houses that are connected to the gravity-fed water system are painted with a light blue water droplet, a sign that Macario Alvarez, mayor of the municipality of Arani, celebrates with the community as they strive for full coverage. Click the image to enlarge.

“Abandoned,” Marcario Alvarez utters with contempt. We’re approaching Cuesta Pata, one of the small villages that make up Arani, a municipality of more than 12,000 people in central Bolivia.

Marcario stops the Jeep, and his cell begins to buzz. He ignores the incoming phone call. As the mayor of Arani, a municipality of more than 12,000 people in central Bolivia, Marcario’s cell gets calls constantly. But we are visiting a village now, so he ignores the call. The outside world can wait.

Marcario tells me that he is looking for “a major victory for Arani, one that will show people here that they won’t be abandoned any longer.” In our conversations today, he has used the word “abandoned” often, each syllable emphasized with a twinge of anger.

Ned Breslin Water for People
Ned Breslin is the CEO at Water For People, a nonprofit that implements drinking water and sanitation solutions in 11 developing countries. He is author of Rethinking Hydrophilantropy.

“When people do the math, Cuesta Pata never looks good,” Marcario says, explaining that the small village is home to only 12 families who have been continuously ignored by aid agencies and previous local government leadership. “There are ‘too few people,’ and it’s ‘too expensive’ per person, so development agencies move on to other villages where the math is more favorable for their donors.”

Ignored. Overlooked. Abandoned. But not anymore. Marcario, who has been Arani’s mayor for four years, points out the curious light blue water droplets that are painted on the sides of the houses. They are part of a program started two years ago. These water droplets are a sign that the family who resides within that home has water services. Water is flowing there today.

“I see these people,” Marcario tells me, his voice rising as he explains why this community matters. “They are just as important as everyone else. They have chosen to live together and to farm this land. They matter to me and to the Government. Bolivia is a global leader in the push to achieve the universal human right to water. If we [in Arani] reach full coverage, we will show the human right to water in practice, not words. If you really believe in the human right to water, then villages like Cuesta Pata are part of that solution. They can’t be abandoned — it’s not a math problem, it’s people.”

We move on from Cuesta Pata, and Marcario points out the water droplets on houses in the distance. But as we drive a bit further, he points out a house without a droplet, and says, “We will find a way to convince that family to connect to the water services offered in the area. One day, they too will have a drop on their house and water in their taps. I believe this strongly in my heart.”

Cobertura Total Para Siempre
I’m here with Marcario in Arani to see Cobertura Total Para Siempre, — which translates to “Total Coverage Forever” — a program that’s being implemented here. It’s Arani’s way of committing to our EVERYONE FOREVER program.

Cobertura Total Para Siempre is focused on bringing water services and latrines to every permanent resident in Arani, including those living in Cuesta Pata who have traditionally been passed by.

Marcario believes in this initiative and is putting his government’s money behind it. Last year, the mayor used a variety of national and district funding streams to allocate 2 million Bolivianos ($US 308,000) toward water service provisions. This year, the Arani Government is matching that allocation, and Marcario remains the lead investor in this municipal program. Communities are also paying an enormous amount in both cash and labor.

Marcario sees Cobertura Total Para Siempre in a wider context. He believes society must change, so he has invested his time, energy, and reputation in driving this greater change. The tool he uses first will be water supply, followed by sanitation and then irrigation. He is tired of half measures, of groups or governments that choose some communities over others for reasons like “math” or politics, and he believes that success in one area — water supply — will lead to a real change in people’s lives, a growing sense of confidence in the ability of government to comprehensively solve problems, and, most importantly, the belief that if one problem can be solved, then so can others.

Marcario also understands the larger importance for Bolivia.

Other municipalities, departments, and even some at the national level are intrigued by Cobertura Total Para Siempre. They have seen full coverage achieved in the neighboring municipality of Cuchumuela, and eyebrows are raising as others, especially Arani and Tiraque, get closer to the goal, led by Bolivian mayors. Success begets success, and the dialogue is changing from stand-alone, largely unsustainable water projects to comprehensive district-wide solutions that abandon no one. This work takes on greater meaning as more municipalities push to replicate, building towards the realization of water for EVERYONE FOREVER in Bolivia.

No One Abandoned Ever Again
Mayor Marcario Alvarez smiles as the local leaders of the water system in Villa Carino explain their plans to purchase a back-up electrical pump with part of the 24,000 Bs ($US 3,600) they collected through water tariffs.

“Good,” he says quietly, under his breath. He asks how many families in the village are still without water, and they explain that only three families remain. Together they discuss strategies to connect those final families, because only then will they have truly succeeded with Cobertura Total Para Siempre.

Marcario looks at the functioning water services offered in the village with pride. “If we succeed with water, then who says we can’t solve other development challenges? When we succeed with water supply, then no one will be abandoned ever again.”

Spot on!

–Ned Breslin
Follow Ned Breslin on Twitter.

2 replies
  1. Edgar says:

    Marcario is a very commited mayor. He will be able to reach water for everyone forever in Arani. Congratulations to him!! All the best for the people that now is not abandoned with this basic service.

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