Water As a Universal Service

August 29, 2012


Water treatment plant

Courtesy of OSE

  • 100% of Uruguayans have access to clean water.
  • However, almost half of the water is lost because of old pipes, thefts or frauds.
  • Sewage treatment plants will be built in every capital city of Uruguay´s River coast.

Uruguay is one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where 100% of households have access to drinking water. After reaching this goal in 2008, now the country faces other challenges.

For public water company OSE, which supplies 98% of the population, these challenges are summarized in three: increase one percent in network coverage, decrease the amount of wasted water, which rises to 47% of OSE water supply; and expand sanitation coverage from 45% to 60% in 2015.

The pipeline network in the country is over 15,000 km but according to OSE Chairman, Milton Machado, there are still homes and schools in rural areas to be connected. However, the focus is on the amount of water lost: 27% of water is wasted due to old pipes (some are 60 years old). Machado says these pipes are being changed at a rate of 150 km a year, especially those that are under driveways and sidewalks. 

" Not giving service for free also means to educate in the responsible use of water "

Milton Machado

OSE Chairman

Fighting fraud

In addition, another 12% of water is lost because of thefts, frauds or alterations made by users. To fight this, OSE is implementing a segmentation of neighborhoods to evaluate the amount of water entering the area and determined the estimated rate. Also changing water meters and developing a pilot plan of measurement in Montevideo City will help to reduce actual water waste.

OSE Chairman explains there are special programs, including "social prices" of three dollars per month for low income families. "Not giving service for free also means to educate in the responsible use of water," says.

The goal in sanitation is to increase the connections from 250,000 to 300,000 in three years. In addition, millionaire works are being done in Ciudad de la Costa, Punta Del Este and Maldonado City, where Uruguay has the highest population growth according to the 2011 census. The plan is to cover 60% of the population by 2015.

Machado says that the execution of these plans will be possible with the support of international organizations and, in this context, World Bank has approved the project "Sustainable and Efficient OSE", which will provide U$D 42 million.