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IV Edition of the Regional Water Dialogues for Latin America and the Caribbean: Forging Alliances for Action

21 March 2024|Briefing note

From March 11th till the 13th of 2024, the IV Edition of the Regional Water Dialogues for Latin America and the Caribbean was held, organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation Agriculture (IICA), in San José, Costa Rica.

The Regional Water Dialogues provided a high-level ministerial space where the exchanges of experiences with a multi-stakeholder stood out, to promote good practices and advance the achievement of SDG 6 in the region. In its fourth edition, the event saw the participation of ministers, deputy ministers, and high-ranking officials from Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay, as well as actors from civil society, academia, and the private sector, bringing together more than 150 in-person attendees, of whom 39% were women and 61% men. Of these attendees, 82 were panelists, with a gender distribution of 37% women and 63% men. Additionally, 1,870 individuals joined the event virtually, representing over 57 countries from the region and the world, with a gender breakdown of 48% women and 51% men, predominantly from the public, academic, and private sectors. Participants, both in-person and virtual, were invited to respond to a closing survey conducted by ECLAC after the event. According to the results, the overall assessment was extremely positive, with an average general satisfaction rating of 4.63 on a scale of 1 to 5. The most common feedback included gratitude for the high quality of the panelists and their contributions, acknowledgment of the enhancement and strengthening of knowledge for formulating evidence-based water policies, and the belief that opportunities to adopt circular economy principles in the drinking water and sanitation sector are applicable to their country contexts.

During the opening, there were high-level presentations. Mr. José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, emphasized that water is not only essential for life but also for achieving sustainable development in our countries. "For this reason, we aim to share experiences, but above all, propose concrete actions and reinforce commitments made at the regional and global levels," he stated.

Mr. Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA, highlighted that action for water is fundamental for sustainable development and life itself. "Water is central, a priority defined by authorities for establishing partnerships. Therefore, everything that facilitates dialogue, exchanges knowledge, and promotes the implementation of innovative solutions is key," he emphasized.

Mrs. Doris Gutiérrez, Presidential Designate of Honduras, a country that holds the pro tempore presidency of CELAC, specifically recognized the role of women in water-related issues and stressed the importance of putting diagnostics into practice. "Women have the strength to give life, and we must be proactive in water management," she declared.

Lastly, Mr. Arnoldo André Tinoco, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, emphasized the importance of fostering the exchange of experiences to promote best practices and contribute to achieving SDG 6, aiming for universal access to drinking water and adequate sanitation services.

With the support of the Regional Group of Experts on Water Resources, the Dialogues were structured around 8 sessions to identify solutions that accelerate the achievement of SDG 6 in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The outcomes of these sessions align with the voluntary commitments made within the framework of the Regional Water Action Agenda adopted by the countries in 2023, a collaborative roadmap for highlighting lessons learned towards achieving a sustainable and inclusive water transition for the region.

In Session 1: Water, Agriculture, and Ecosystems, the urgency of adopting agricultural practices to improve water use efficiency and establishing public-private partnerships to develop innovative technologies to this end was emphasized. It was also acknowledged that increasing efficiency in this sector would have one of the largest impacts, as it represents 70% of freshwater withdrawals.

In Session 2: Water and Productive Development, the vital importance of adapting energy matrices towards renewable sources to reduce water pressure was agreed upon, considering that 90% of electricity production depends on water. The need to promote adaptive water management to protect river transport sources, which affect price rises during drought periods, was highlighted.

In Session 3: Transboundary Waters: Management, Cooperation, and Peace, the importance of improving regional integration in water matters and inclusive governance was recognized, given that 71% of surface waters are shared. This is based on strengthening capacities to address hydro-political conflicts, acknowledging that the United Nations Water Convention provides practical tools for this purpose.

In Session 4: Towards the 2024 World Water Forum, the regional process of the Americas was reviewed, emphasizing the need to mobilize political and financial will to address the increasing water challenges of LAC.

In Session 5: Water, Health, and Equity, the urgency of reinforcing education on hygiene and menstrual health was acknowledged, promoting models of communities resilient to climate change through participative water management.

In Session 6: Water Security and Climate Resilience, countries shared challenges in supplying drinking water during pollution emergencies or water scarcity. Monitoring and investment systems were proposed, concluding that greater public awareness about water insecurity is essential.

During Session 7: Opportunities for the Circular Economy in the Sanitation Sector, the advantages of moving towards circular economy models in the water and sanitation sector were shown. The Salvadoran Water Authority announced that, after participating in a workshop led by ECLAC, it will launch a local investment plan to redesign a wastewater treatment plant with methane recovery. According to ECLAC, the investment recovery period is 3.4 years with a benefit-cost ratio of 3.13. Potential financiers also participated in the session.

In Session 8: Valuing Water, the need to strengthen a culture that values water from various perspectives and to empower communities through education to implement solutions that impact water quality and availability and mobilize political, technical, and financial resources to increase water security was emphasized.

The 2024 Regional Water Dialogues thus provided diverse experiences and ways to address the water challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The discussion focused on searching for solutions, considering not only the technical-financial approach but also the needs for collaboration among actors and regulatory and institutional modernization.

This event represents an important step towards more inclusive and sustainable water management in Latin America and the Caribbean. The next major milestone will be the 2024 World Water Forum in Bali, where potential agreements of great significance, such as the establishment of a water fund and the strengthening of water-diplomacy, will be discussed. A Water Conference is also planned for 2026, which will be an opportunity to report on the global water action agenda, complementing the regional efforts strengthened in this meeting.

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