Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. In the project area, over 90% of the predominantly indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. Across poor rural areas of the country, not even half the people have running water or latrines. What is more, the water is often dirty and this can lead to diseases that can be fatal for small children.
Since decentralisation, the local authorities are responsible for water use and conservation, as well as for sanitation. Yet they are often overwhelmed by these new tasks due to insufficient funds and lack of know-how. There is no national water legislation or water authority to coordinate their work. Therefore, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is supporting the local authorities in the construction of water supply systems, drainage and waste disposal infrastructure, as well as latrines, with the active participation of local people. In parallel, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation builds capacities at municipalities and village level officers and water committees for operating and maintaining the infrastructure. Women’s participation in decision-making is explicitly encouraged.
In addition, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation helps the authorities and parent-associations in improving existing schools to turn them into “healthy schools”. They are supplied with clean water and equipped with hand-washing facilities, toilets and waste disposal schemes. Teachers are trained and educational material is provided so that they can teach the children good hygiene practices. The children participate through an elected student council, practicing civil rights and duties. The children then pass on what they have learnt at school to their families. As a result, there are increasing numbers of healthy people in a region formerly marked by disease.