With average annual precipitation of 1,600 millimeters and an average runoff of 400,000 cubic meters per second (m3/s), Latin America accounts for almost one third of the world's freshwater resources. Despite this abundance, 34 million Latin Americans still do not have access to piped potable water and 106 million do not have basic sanitation services.
There are significant natural barriers involved. Water resources in the region are distributed very unevenly, from the driest desert in the world, with practically no rainfall, to areas with a vast overabundance of water.
At the same time, many areas of high economic activity and major urban centers are located in zones with low water availability, as in the case of Mexico, Dominican Republic, Chile and Peru. In Peru, for example, 65% of the population lives in areas that have just 2% of the country's water resources.
Water use is also a pressing issue. Today in Latin America, about 250 billion m3 per year are extracted for domestic and productive uses, equivalent to 2.2% of available resources.
According to the latest data from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the main use of water is irrigation, which represents 71% of the total. Next is domestic use at 17%, followed by industry with 12% of the total.
Apart from the scarcity of water in many areas, increasing demand and competition for the resource, changes in rainfall and temperature patterns due to climate change - which have resulted in extensive droughts in large regions of the continent - need to be faced.
In order to contain the inherent risks in the water sector at an acceptable level and to ensure the universalization of drinking water and basic sanitation services, Latin American governments need to accelerate investments in large water infrastructure projects.
This involves important challenges to improve and better manage regulatory frameworks, but it also represents an opportunity to open up to more private sector participation when public budgets are insufficient. A large number of companies, including major global and regional players, have the resources and experience to contribute to achieving these objectives.