Water is an essential resource for the economic and social development of any country. Israel is one of the soundest examples of how to make the most of this resource. As a country with scant water resources, water became a state policy, and along with an ambitious investment plan, it has achieved not only universal access to safe water and sanitation for its population, but a thriving and sustainable agriculture through reused water irrigation. Despite its abundant resources, Argentina has still a big water debt.
In 2010, the UN declared the access to safe drinking water and sanitation a Human Right. However, in our country only 87% of the urban population has access to drinking water –a percentage below some neighboring countries such as Brazil (93%), Uruguay (97%), and Chile (100%)-, and only 58% has access to sewer systems, again at lower levels compared to neighboring countries.
Additionally, at global level there has been a remarkable growth of wastewater treatment systems, furthered by the growing concern for the environment. Currently, Argentina treats between 9 to 12% of all the water it uses, way below the region’s index. Between 2000 and 2014, Brazil and Chile increased their percentage of treated waters from 17% to 40%, and from 21% to 97%, respectively. In both cases, one of the main reasons of this rise has been a regulation that promoted specific projects, facilitating its funding and seeking a higher participation of the private sector implementing different models.
Following this direction, the participation of the private sector at global level in safe drinking water and sanitation systems is expected to increase throughout the next decade from 16% to 21% of the served population, while in Argentina this index is just 5%. The participation of private stakeholders in these services has allowed the acceleration of investments, and the penetration through different models. While developed countries have moved toward traditional licensing agreements, where private parties are responsible for the whole cycle including the investments for network development; developing countries have sought to engage the participation of the private sector through public-private participation models, or operation and maintenance agreements.
Finally, considering water a limited resource, there is a growing emphasis at global level on water use efficiency. In Argentina, household use is specially high: in 2010, the average per capita consumption was of 297 liters a day, while in Chile it was of 140 liters, in Uruguay of 128 liters and in Brazil of 116 liters, whereas the global average was of 180 liters. This implies a big opportunity to improve sustainability, working on different areas such as consumption measurement and monitoring to reduce losses and leakages, the use of more efficient home appliances and industrial machines, the reuse of treated wastewater and the implementation of incentives to raise awareness and steer users toward the rational use of water.
To sum up, Argentina has a strong need to move toward the universalization of safe water and sanitation services, and wastewater treatment. In line with the foregoing, the current administration has set an ambitious long-term plan, aiming at achieving by 2019 100% access to safe drinking water, and 75% access to sewage systems with an estimated investment of US$ 8.2 billion and US$ 13.4 billion respectively. This plan implies meaningful opportunities for the private sector, with investments and efficient operative capacities through public-private participation models, such as engineering services and construction, and the supply of the necessary equipment and materials for the construction of the necessary works.
To learn about the challenges and opportunities of the sector, between September 12 and 15, Buenos Aires will host the Argentine Business and Investment Forum organized by the Investment and Trade Promotion Agency, with the participation of over 1,500 business leaders, investors from Argentina and around the world.