TEPIC, Mexico, Feb 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - High on
Ecuador's Andean plains, the Comuna Espejo co-operative is
counting on a recent delivery of 20 woolly alpacas to keep its
moist grasslands in better shape than the sheep that normally
graze there - and in turn help secure water supplies to the
nearby capital city of Quito.
“Little by little, we're going to see the impact the alpacas
have, but they're easier to manage than sheep and the
degradation is less,” said Henry Carrera, vice president of
Comuna Espejo, now home to 18 female and two male alpacas.
Besides selling wool, and eventually meat from the camelids,
Comuna Espejo hopes to attract tourists with the alpaca project,
which forms part of the Quito Water Fund’s plans to conserve the
watersheds around the city some 30 km (19 miles) away.
Quito’s fund, the first to be set up under the auspices of
U.S.-based environmental group The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in
2000, has provided a model for nearly 60 cities around the world
to boost water security from the source to the sink.
The funds combine scientific expertise with public and
private-sector investment from water authorities, banks and
large water users such as bottlers and brewers.
Now TNC has 20 funds active in Latin America. It plans to
double these by 2020 in the region where 80 percent of the
population lives in cities, putting huge pressure on water
“Being able to protect the water sources for the cities is
very important for the population, to reduce risks for water
quality and quantity,” said Silvia Benitez, TNC’s Quito-based
fresh water manager for Latin America.
The problem cannot be solved by any one organisation, but
must be addressed through collective action involving different
water users, she added.
Each city’s water fund has to be tailored to suit the
specific issues facing residents and watersheds.
In the industrial Mexican city of Monterrey, which is
susceptible to both droughts and floods, the city’s water fund
is working to reduce water stress and increase the amount of
water sucked up by watersheds in the surrounding areas.
In São Paulo, whose population of over 20 million already
consumes 4 percent more water than comes from its rivers, forest
restoration and sediment reduction in waterways around the
megacity are part of its fund’s plan to boost water security,
together with efforts to cut water use and invest in critical
MIXING GREEN AND GREY
Bert de Bièvre, head of the water fund in Quito - which now
has 100 percent potable water - said the concept was to achieve
water security through a combination of “grey and green
infrastructure”. “The grey infrastructure must be combined with
the conservation of these (water) catchments,” he explained.
Estimating that some 40 percent of land around the world’s
water sources has suffered degradation from deforestation,
development and agriculture, TNC argues that investing in
watersheds helps reduce environmental damage and soil erosion.
It can also cut the risk of fires and promote biodiversity.
But persuading rural communities to change their practices
in order to ensure water supplies for city dwellers many miles
away often demands novel solutions.
“We're looking for win-win situations without cash
transactions,” said de Bièvre.
In the areas around Quito, that might involve a shift in
grazing methods on the sponge-like paramos plains that are vital
to water supplies - such as Comuna Espejo’s alpacas.
Elsewhere, the fund could offer free water supplies to
remote properties or tax incentives to encourage larger
landowners to cooperate, de Bièvre said.
With many water funds in the region now well established,
monitoring and quantifying their impact is key, said TNC's
Benitez. That could encourage greater involvement of
private-sector companies, which are paying closer attention to
the issue of water security.
“The idea of reducing their business risk is very important
to them. They’re aware of the risk related to water,” Benitez
said, listing Mexican bottler and retailer Fomento Económico
Mexicano (FEMSA) among businesses involved in water funds in the
TNC is now developing a “toolbox” with manuals and training
programmes to enable cities around the world to develop their
own funds specific to the local environment and needs, she said.
“There is a lot of demand and we need to provide the tools
for other people,” she added. “We cannot be working everywhere.”
(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.