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WaterTech for Resilient Cities

On March 6, 2015, more than 150 participants attended the WaterTech for Resilient Cities conference at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, D.C. as the first installment of an event series focused on urban water infrastructure resilience. This conference was co-hosted by IDB, Organization of American States (OAS), the U.S. State Department and the USWP and supported by Bank of America, FEMSA Foundation, McWane Inc.Xylem Inc. and the Regional Policy Dialogue. The conference called for collaboration between the public and private sectors across the Western Hemisphere to catalyze innovations and investments to make urban water infrastructure more resilient. Panels and small roundtables focused on identifying new partners, innovative approaches/practices and key solutions on topics such as built infrastructure, natural disasters and early warning systems, information sharing tools, innovative financing models, twinning arrangements for water operators and much more.

Senior-level attendees represented unique perspectives from water operators across nine countries, in addition to the United States, which included:

  • Administración Nacional de Acueductos Alcantarillados (ANDA), El Salvador;
  • Aguas Andinas, Chile;
  • Aguas y Saneamientos Argentinos (AySA), Argentina;
  • Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), Brazil;
  • Caribbean Development Bank, Bahamas;
  • Comisión Naciónal del Agua (CONAGUA), Mexico;
  • Empresa Pública Metropolitana de Agua Potable y Saneamiento (EPMAPS), Ecuador;
  • Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EPM), Colombia; and,
  • Servicio Autónomo Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (SANAA), Honduras.

Mr. Sergio Campos, Water and Sanitation Division Chief, IDB provided welcoming remarks and Dr. Aaron Salzberg, Special Coordinator for Water Resources, U.S. State Department set the context of the challenges facing cities in the region. Video of their remarks is available here.

Ambassador Hattie Babbitt moderated the context setting panel featuring Mr. Campos; Dr. Partho Sanyal, Managing Director, Bank of America – Latin America Investment Banking Group; Mr. Osvaldo Greco, Managing Director, South America, Xylem, Inc.; and Mr. Chris Nichols, President, McWane International.

“Climate change is a major threat to tens of millions of people living in Latin America’s urban centers such as São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Mexico City,” said Ambassador Babbitt. “I encourage parties from the policy, finance, and science and technology communities throughout the region to address these risks by exchanging ideas and co-developing partnerships and solutions with our U.S. public and private sectors.” 

Mr. Campos reiterated that building water security requires “Private investment, science, technology, building capacity and government participation” and said “The Inter-American Development Bank is working with its 26 member countries to identify policies and projects that can help us address these problems.” Mr. Greco shared how Xylem, Inc. was already responding to the critical drought in Brazil and “In just three months we installed a plant to produce 500 liters per second.”

Dr. Sanyal outlined the scale and scope for private sector financing and underscored the private sector as an untapped resource compared to other investors in water infrastructure. “Private capital is not scratching the surface of the total capital invested into water” said Dr. Sanyal. “There is enough capital out there, but the framework and the underlying requirements for private capital flows are missing both in OECD and Latin American countries.” Video of the panelists’ remarks is available here.

The presentations and discussions offered a solid understanding of the context and the array of challenges in the region and suggested solutions. The following outcomes from the conference will be expanded upon during subsequent events in the series:

  • Exploring a possible twinning arrangement between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and utilities in Brazil;
  • A Background Paper, which outlines a landscape of best practices and approaches to build resilience of urban water infrastructure; and,
  • Partnerships, follow-up convenings, and lessons learned that can be applied to other geographic areas and regions.
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