Colombia overview

Colombia has around 45 million inhabitants, 76% of whom live in urban areas. It is a lower middle income country with a GDP per capita of around US$8,936 (IMF, 2010). In spite of high levels of economic growth, huge inequalities exist; it is among the top 10 countries with the highest Gini-coefficient in the world. Steady but slow progress is being made in reducing poverty levels; but a significant percentage of the population continues to live in poverty – mostly in rural areas. The process of decentralisation began in the 1990s.

Administrative set up

Between the national and municipal levels of government there are 32 departments. There are approximately 1,100 municipalities (the lowest level of local government).

Main sector institutions

  • The sector has been guided by the Law 142 on Water Supply and Sanitation Services Provision since 1992. It clearly separates roles and responsibilities.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development (MAVDT) is the ministry responsible for water supply. Policy development and coordination are amongst its tasks.
  • The Water Regulatory Commission (CRA) and the Public Domestic Service Superintendent (SSPD) form the two key regulatory bodies. The CRA is responsible for setting the regulations, whereas the SSPD has a monitoring and enforcement role.
  • Departments historically have had a limited role in water supply. In the last administration however, they were given an important role in planning and financing investments in new infrastructure and rehabilitation.
  •  Municipalities are constitutionally responsible for guaranteeing access to water and sanitation services. This implies establishing service provision arrangements. In addition, they are responsible for planning and financing investments. Finally, they have a role of providing technical assistance to service providers.
  • Four different types of Service Providers are recognised by the legal framework: direct provi­sion by the municipality through a municipal company; private providers; mixed public-private companies; and, community-based service providers (which are further sub-divided in four modalities).

Service Delivery Models

CBM has been firmly established as the main Service Delivery Model in rural areas and even in many small towns. This finds its roots in a long tradition of CBM in the country, but supported by the Law 142. It is estimated that there are over 11,000 community-based water supply and sanitation service providers. Though other SDMs exist as mentioned above, these are mainly applied in towns and cities.

Key issues

Since the second half of the 1990s it has also been recognised that many community-based service providers suffer from technical and administrative deficiencies and a range of models of support have come into existence to professionalise CBM. These can be classified as:

  • Direct support to service providers by the MAVDT, through a programme called “Business Culture Programme”.
  • Support by departmental authorities as part of larger infrastructure development and rehabilitation programmes.
  • Support by municipalities to community-based service providers. In some cases it has been municipal staff providing post-construction support directly; in other cases, the municipality contracts the urban utility to support rural operators in the neighbouring areas.
  • Technical assistance through civil society or private sector agencies. One example of a civil society initiative is the Asociación Colombiana de Organizaciones Comunitarias Prestadoras de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento (AQUACOL) (Colombian Association of Community-Based Water and Sanitation Services Providers). It facilitates mutual support between its members. An example of the private sector is the Coffee Growers’ Association which supports the technical and administrative management in village where it has helped to build water systems, predominantly in the departments where coffee growing is concentrated.