Increasing access to water, toilets and hygiene in La Guajira, Colombia

4 min read
A toilet block with handwashing facilities painted in artwork in Colombia
Image: WaterAid

WaterAid has worked in Colombia since 2016, primarily in the arid desert peninsula of La Guajira. La Guajira is home to the Wayuu people, one of Colombia’s largest indigenous groups, as well as many Afro-Colombian communities. In La Guajira, only 16% of the rural population has access to water, and a mere 4% has access to basic sanitation.

Since the program began, WaterAid has provided access to clean water and sanitation to more than 62,706 people, through our water, toilet and hygiene interventions in 402 communities. Typically these interventions include the construction or rehabilitation of water systems, the construction or rehabilitation of sanitation infrastructure (for example, toilets and handwashing stations), and providing training on the management and maintenance of infrastructure and good hygiene practices. This work has reached more than 9,000 people with hygiene messaging, and 30,000 with campaigns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

WaterAid has been collaborating with government to develop impactful and far-reaching projects, and to promote sustainable water, toilet and hygiene services. This enables the support of local and department-level governments in advocacy and capacity building for enhanced understanding and delivery of water, toilet and hygiene services, with potential to expand collaborations at the national level.

Girls walk towards a  new toilet block in La Guajira, Colombia

WaterAid is working to support of the aims of the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory of the Colombian national government, which is working in various municipalities of La Guajira to provide access to water and improved sanitation to dispersed, rural communities. We are supporting this through two projects in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB):

  1. Water and Sanitation Provision Models for Dispersed Rural Areas in La Guajira, Colombia: This project focuses on providing individual solutions for water supply and sanitation in dispersed rural areas in La Guajira with less than 200 residents. This will include the implementation of pilot water and sanitation service provision in the community of Petpana and its neighboring communities, in the municipality of Uribia.
  2. Drinking Water and Sanitation Program for the Department of La Guajira: The project includes the optimisation of the community’s aqueduct system, support for the installation of a potable water treatment plant, and extensive capacity building support and training to ensure the sustainability of the services in the community of Santa Rita de Jerez in the municipality of Dibulla, in La Guajira.
Women walk towards a structure in Colombia

Along with developing and rehabilitating water, toilet and hygiene infrastructure in communities, WaterAid is also rolling out innovative approaches to change hygiene behaviors and increase the sustainability of each of its projects. These approaches include:

  • “Pathways to WASH”: WaterAid developed a toolkit for water, sanitation and hygiene education in schools, with a focus on reaching marginalised students and showcasing the knowledge of minority groups. The toolkit includes an introductory guide and three activity booklets, which together make up the series “Pathways to WASH”, as well as accompanying props, such as puppets and playing cards. By featuring diverse characters and important elements of Wayuu culture, such as dreams, the toolkit aims to center and uplift Wayuu culture, while showcasing other cultures present in La Guajira. Each activity booklet includes between six and eight activities to promote hygiene for kids ages six to 16, and proposals on how to adapt activities for younger children. WaterAid is working with teachers in select schools to pilot this approach and integrate these materials into the curricula.
  • Combining soccer and WASH: WaterAid is working with Fundación Selección Colombia (FSC) to use soccer as a mechanism to promote water, toilet and hygiene education. Through this collaboration, WaterAid combines an expertise in water, toilet and hygiene interventions in communities, schools, and daycare centers with FSC's experience using soccer as a social transformation tool. We have developed a curriculum using soccer techniques and activities to cover the topics of water, toilets, hygiene, and menstrual hygiene. The curriculum is currently being piloted in seven communities, and is designed to function as a “training of trainers” tool that can be utilised in future communities where WaterAid works, and by others, moving forward.
  • The use of sacred art: To increase the use of water, toilet and hygiene infrastructure and showcase Wayuu culture, WaterAid incorporates sacred Wayuu art into infrastructure design. In the community of Pesuapa, traditional Wayuu elements and symbols were painted on water, toilet and hygiene infrastructure. We found that the community then became more interested in the new infrastructure, increasing usage, supporting good hygiene habits, and ultimately increasing health outcomes in this community.

WaterAid is dedicated to showcasing creativity, innovation, and commitment to collaboration through its work in Colombia, leading to quality water, toilet and hygiene services while contributing to improved health and wellbeing, particularly in marginalised communities.