Sign me up for updates. Sign up now

Donate Take Action
United Way Blog

Tackling Water Inequalities in Latin America

United Way works globally to improve lives, focusing on financial security, community resilience, youth opportunity and health. In April, we celebrate World Health Day (April 7) and Earth Day (April 22), which highlight the importance of water as a crucial natural resource. Water scarcity affects over 40% of the world's population, with unequal access more evident in regions like Africa, India, and South Asia. This inequality impacts health, migration, and infant mortality rates. Latin America faces similar challenges, where 60% of municipalities in Mexico dealt with water shortages, according to the World Bank.

Latin America is home to 31% of the world's freshwater resources. Despite this, many communities struggle to secure reliable access to potable water. In Peru, for instance, around 90% of the population has only intermittent water access.

Over the next few years, climate change in this region may lead to flooding, dryer conditions, and less agricultural land. Population growth will further stress water-storage systems, as nearly 85% of the population is expected to live in urban areas by 2025, enlarging the gap in water storage.

Water Inequality Solutions 

In response to the global water crisis, United Ways in Latin America have led collaborations with the private sector over the last eight years to improve access to water. United Way Mexico joined an intercontinental partnership with Beiersdorf called We Empower, bringing the installation of 30 water tanks and purification in La Cañada, Hidalgo. The program trained 97 migrant communities on construction of cisterns and food gardens in refugee shelters, impacting 16,240 people.

In 2023, the Agua en Positivo -Water for Good- initiative launched by P&G Mexico and United Way Mexico, Young Water Solutions, and Makesense announced the funding of five social entrepreneurial ventures that aim to create positive solutions to water shortage and water stress in Mexico.  

Another key strategy at work in Mexico is connecting teachers with entertainment for students. United Way and Constellations Brands led the environmental short film contest ¿Cuál es la gota que tú pones? -Which drop do you add? -, promoted to engage children and youth in the dissemination of creative video ideas. The open call awarded nine schools last May in the municipality of Zaragoza, Coahuila.

According to United Nations, around 13 million people lack access to water services in Guatemala, undermining the development potential of the country’s children.  Together, United Way Guatemala, Procter & Gamble (P&G), and Walmart Mexico & Central America launched through Cosecha de Lluvia por la Educación - Rain Harvest for Education-, a water conservation initiative that also aimed to improve access to potable water. The project installed a rainwater harvesting system at a local school that reached 200 families in Chiquimula, one of the most vulnerable communities due to its difficult access to water. 

In Panama, Escuela de Lluvia – School of Rain engages schools struggling with water access by appointing children as Water Guardians. The intervention collects rain for daily activities such as hand washing and cleaning, saving up to 50% in water use and raising the capacity of potable water by 15,000 liters.

“The School of Rain plays a very important role in the pedagogical approach of the students,” says Panamanian School Principal Ana Paula Pérez Castro “We are learning a lot, including recognizing the importance of storing water. It is our responsibility to look after this project.”

Like Mexico and Guatemala, 90% of Peru’s population faces intermittent water supply, low water pressure, and poor-quality drinking water. Against this background, transforming water into clean drinking water, is a key priority for United Way Peru with P&G. 

The Agua Limpia para los Niños - More Clean Water for Kids project facilitated the purification of more than 800 million liters of water by distributing at-home water purifier sachets. The goal of this long-term collaboration is to add value to educational infrastructure by meeting children’s basic nutritional needs. 

Through these efforts, United Way is improving the health, education and environmental resilience of communities across Latin America. If you are inspired by this work, reach out to your local United Way to find out what they’re doing in your backyard.