Investing in wastewater in Latin America can pay off

We are all too familiar with these figures: on average, only 50% of the population in Latin America is connected to sewerage and 30% of those households receive any treatment.
There is a large disparity in the levels of treatment per country: we see countries like Chile, which treats 90% of its wastewater, and countries like Costa Rica, which treats approximately 4% of its wastewater.
In 1990, 80% of the urban population in the region had access to improved sanitation facilities, which means a connection to a piped sewer, septic tank, or pit latrine.
The newly endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are adding a new dimension to our challenges in the sector by incorporating sustainability, which includes improving water quality, implementing integrated water resources management, water use efficiency across sectors, reducing the number of people suffering from water scarcity, and restoring water-related ecosystems.
Countries are embarking on massive programs to collect and treat their wastewater with the hope that most middle-income countries in the region will achieve at least 50% wastewater treatment rates over the next decade.
Historically, investments in the sector have focused on water supply and relatively little has been invested in sanitation.
Efficiently investing in wastewater and other sanitation infrastructure to achieve public health benefits, environmental objectives, and to enhance the quality of urban life is a major challenge for the region and this is highlighted in a recent report prepared by the World Bank on infrastructure in Latin America which states that ‘the dismal wastewater performance is a real emergency, and one that epitomizes the potential for spending better’.
To address these challenges, the World Bank is implementing a new regional activity to provide client countries with the analysis and guidance on improved strategies for the planning and financing of wastewater treatment, resource recovery, and water quality improvement investments and associated trade-offs in a river basin context.
The region will continue to urbanize and the competition for water resources is increasing.
It is furthermore an opportunity to reduce resource consumption along the water value chain and to shift from a linear to a circular economy.

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