Extending the human right of access to water supply and sanitation (WSS) services to Indigenous Peoples represents the final step for many countries to reach universal coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). As the 7th Rural Water Supply Network Forum is underway in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, we must remind ourselves what “inclusion” means in the WSS sector. Poverty levels among Indigenous Peoples are more than twice those found among other Latin Americans, and they are 10 to 25 percent less likely to have access to piped water and 26 percent less likely to have access to improved sanitation.
With dire consequences on health, productivity, and well-being, these access gaps also exemplify two shortcomings of past engagement with Indigenous Peoples in the WSS sector: Indigenous territories have often been overlooked, and, even where investments specifically target Indigenous Peoples, WSS service sustainability remains a large issue. Several barriers explain this: investors’ and service providers’ lack of understanding of Indigenous Peoples' unique social and cultural characteristics, limited engagement with Indigenous authorities and attention to their priorities and aspirations, and the remoteness and difficult access to many Indigenous communities, to name a few. More generally, we need a tailored approach that responds to these challenges through institutional development, partnership with Indigenous authorities, and local capacity building for WSS services management in order to overcome the existing system that incentivizes physical interventions in easily accessible areas with limited social accompaniment.