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The Superheroes of Development

How long would you need to walk to wash your hands? If you lived in Apurímac, the answer is hours.

In this department of Peru, located more than 741 miles east of Lima, its inhabitants must travel long distances of rugged mountain terrain to access clean sources of drinking water.  

Access to safe chlorinated water is a problem all over Peru, and it is the main cause of child malnutrition. The effects of this scarcity are felt even more in remote departments with large concentrations of indigenous people, such as Apurimac, Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Cusco and Puno, where 43% of children under the age of 3 suffer from chronic anemia due to poor access to clean water. However, improving water and sanitation infrastructure is a challenge in these areas. 

A couple of years ago, the Peruvian government launched several calls for tenders from executing agencies to develop water and sanitation projects in these regions. The initial response was poor. "Of the 341 projects we envisioned for these areas, 183 could not be executed," says Jorge Chigne, from the Ministry of Housing. Many of the projects were located in geographically complex areas, so the interest of companies to execute them was low or they were too difficult to carry them out.




The solution? Empowering communities

In search for innovative solutions to this problem, the Ministry of Housing decided to use an alternative mechanism to intervene the projects directly. The solution? “Executing cores.” These were composed by members from the community who took charge of the management and financing of the water project. That way, the community itself became responsible for the management of its own infrastructure. 

The public sector gave an average of US$150,000 in funds to each executing core, and provided them with basic training to make drinking water in their homes a reality. Each core chose which members of the community would act as monitors, treasurers and representatives, in order to administer the project, pay the workers and buy the materials, among other tasks. 

The initiative radically transformed the communities, since it opened up new job opportunities for women, who until then had been relegated from the workplace and who, in many cases, even became the core leaders. "We, as the executing core, are working for our town with gender equality, together men and women," says Pedro Mallqui Salazar, president of the Executing Core of Huasnupata. 

Video: the success of the project in the voice of its protagonists


In addition, the initiative improved collaboration within the community. "I am a monitor, the community chose me. I count the amount of materials that arrive and their brands. All four members of the core work together," emphasizes Andrea Quispe Vargas, who works with Pedro as monitor for the Executing Core of Huasnupata. 

The cores are also responsible for ensuring the sustainability of the project over time. María Huamaní, from the town of Pichaca, explains their strategy to maintain water and sanitation services in their community: "We will not give the water for free. We all have to pay a family fee of 8 soles (equivalent to US$ 2.40) for maintenance, the purchase of chlorine, accessories and faucets. With that fee, we will no longer depend on the municipalities. Together, we are going to pay the operators," she says.


"I am a monitor, the community chose me. I count the amount of materials that arrive and their brands. All four members of the core work together," says Andrea Quispe Vargas, who works as monitor for the Executing Core of Huasnupata. 


The key to a better life

Thanks to this innovative solution, the indigenous communities of Apurímac, Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Cusco and Puno discovered a new way to improve their quality of life, generating more opportunities for work and collaboration in the community. 

The projects not only improved the quality of life and health standards of the communities, they also increased attendance to schools. It shortened the time taken to collect water and reduced the number of children who were getting sick. "Now our children will be able to wash their hands after work, and before going to eat. They will not need to be running all over the place, because we now have bathrooms," says Nélida Charapaqui Soto, a professor from Totorapamba.

Video: a Q&A with the project's leader, Jorge Chigne, from Peru's Housing Ministry (in Spanish)


All the 183 projects executed by these cores have been completed while, of the 158 projects executed by companies from outside the communities, there are still 32 in under work. "The program helped these populations, who were empowered by their project and working together, to accomplish great developments for their community and achieve their goals," says Jorge Chigne, from the Ministry of Housing. 

This water and sanitation initiative from the Ministry of Housing was selected as the winner of this year’s Superheroes for Development (Superhéroes del Desarrollo, in Spanish), an initiative of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that recognizes innovative ways to address challenges in the projects it supports. The project was selected among 86 other proposals submitted by executing agencies from the 26 member countries of the Bank.

Do you want to know more about this and the other proposals? Find them on our website and discover the ideas behind their projects.


Improving Lives