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The work of the ants: Labour and community reinventing public water in Colombia


Water services in Colombia’s rural and peri-urban areas have traditionally been delivered by a rich variety of autonomous community-owned aqueducts. This action-research project documents the struggles of one such community to preserve and reinforce its aqueduct as an alternative to both private and ‘state’ modes of service delivery.

The paper looks at the experience of building coalitions between public employees from the trade unions SINTRACUAVALLE and SINTRAMBIENTE and members of the community aqueduct in La Sirena, beginning in 2008. Through a labour-community alliance, they collaborated to repair leaks and improve the aqueduct’s metering techniques, tariff structure and billing methods, putting it on the path to greater social and financial sustainability. The service network has expanded since that time, and there has been no more water rationing. Community aqueduct staff have also learned to monitor the watersheds and have reached out to neighbouring aqueducts to protect the resource.

The authors analyze the solidarities built in the process as well as challenges, and draw lessons that can be applied in the development of labour-community alliances for ‘public’ services elsewhere in the world.

Madeleine Bélanger Dumontier, Susan Spronk and Adrian Murray
Publication Information: 
Occasional Paper No. 28
Publication Date: 
Publication Type: 
Occasional Paper