A new model of water management in El Salvador

woman at stove
Thanks to this new project, families in the Torola River Basin now have easier access to water. Photo: UNDP El Salvador/Mauricio Martinez.

“In the past, everyone would queue up and fill up their pitcher from a thin trickle of water,” recalls Hernán del Cid Argueta, who lives in Joateca, in the north-east of El Salvador. There was enough water to drink, but not enough left over for household tasks and personal hygiene, or for his livestock and vegetable patch, which provided Hernán with his daily income.

This was a common situation for many families, like Hernán’s, who live in the Torolo River Basin. To improve access to quality water for the 800 families living there, a UNDP- project, funded by the Basque Water Agency (URA) and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), seeks to improve local water management to guarantee access to high quality water and safeguard water resources through local capacity building.


  • More than 2,000 people benefited from awareness campaigns and participation in the management of water resources.
  • Tanks, filters, and pipes were installed to bring water to 800 families in Torola River Basin.
  • In its pilot phase, the project covered six municipalities with infrastructure and 18 municipalities in capacity building.
  • The model aims for water systems to be managed under a system of governance and coordination, ensuring the sustainability and integrity in resource management.

6 municipalities were selected for a pilot phase: tanks, filters, and pipes were installed and water sources were protected, indirectly benefitting more than 2,000 individuals. This first phase constitutes a model of governance fostering coordination between various areas such as water management, civic participation, collective decision-making, and awareness-raising campaigns.

The pilot was also instrumental in bolstering the capacities of local government and town councils that administer water resources, as well as end-users and national organizations that participate in the management of these resources, such as the Ministry of Water Supply and Sewerage.

Beginning in 2012, a capacity building plan resulted in workshops and exchange of experience outside of the Torola River basin, focusing on the preservation and the rational use of water, transparency in management, adapting to climate change, and food security. Now, more than 300 individuals have been trained in workshops that range from technical issues to corporate responsibility, and audit committees.

 Hernán del Cid ArguetaHernán del Cid Argueta has been involved in water governance in the Torola River Basin in El Salvador. Photo: UNDP El Salvador/Mauricio Martinez.

At the same time, “The Basin Committee” was set up, including governments and local communities, the private sector, and water committees. This committee has been given official recognition by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) as part of water reform.

The governance of water resources is facilitated through a system of stakeholders that brings together municipalities, civil society, private enterprise, and government.

Better coordination between institutions and local organizations led to the pilot project being recognized by the government as a national model to improve water management. The initiative will soon be replicated in other water basins in El Salvador.

“For UNDP, it is key that behind all the pipes and taps that are being installed in the country, we find a process of governance and coordination that guarantees sustainability, quality of service and the authentic development of the individual and the community,” says Stefano Pettinato, the UNDP’s Deputy Resident Representative for Belize and El Salvador.

The initiative has served as a platform for international cooperation. Organizations such as the OPEC Fund for International Development and SIWI, as well as global UNDP programmes, are financing new projects based on a model of governance, sustainability, and integrity in the management of water resources. The Global Water Solidarity platform and the French Cooperation Authorities are promoting the initiative as good practice in terms of managing water at a global level.

“Nowadays we enjoy a high level of quality in terms of water service and all of us know that we have to take care of it. We have educated ourselves, we have met with other associations, and we have exchanged experiences,” says Hernán del Cid, now part of his municipality’s monitoring committee.

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