Water For People

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The most populous country in Central America, Guatemala is proud of its Mayan heritage but also its diversity, with over 24 linguistic groups. Most of the people live in rural areas, although more and more are migrating to urban centers for work. Approximately 51% of Guatemalans live below the national poverty line.

According to the most recent Joint Monitoring Program Report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 94% of Guatemalans have access to improved water sources and 80% have improved sanitation facilities. At first glance, these numbers seem impressive, but they do not provide a complete picture of water and sanitation access in the country, as many of the improved systems do not meet government standards and are in partial or complete failure.

Water For People has been in Guatemala since 1997. In the years following its first work, more than 100 water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives were implemented throughout the country. In 2007, Water For People–Guatemala developed a strategic plan to work exclusively in the department of El Quiché, to maximize existing partnerships and staff time. El Quiché was also selected because of its great need: the department has one of the highest levels of poverty in the country and very low levels of water and sanitation coverage.


Rural access to improved water:
Rural access to improved sanitation:
Spanish, Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, Xinca
Per capita income:
Life expectancy (M/F):
Under-five mortality rate:
14/1,000 live births

Source: World Health Organization


Water For People­–Guatemala is focusing its programming in four municipalities in the department of El Quiché: San Bartolome Jocotenango, San Andrés Sajcabajá, San Antonio Ilotenango, and Santa Cruz del Quiché. These four districts are all located in the Salinas Watershed in the central highlands.

Santa Cruz del Quiché is the main municipality of the central highlands of El Quiché; it covers 50 square miles with a population of approximately 90,800 within the town of the same name and 82 surrounding villages. The Water For People–Guatemala office is located here. San Bartolomé Jocotenango is a rural municipality with 13,930 inhabitants in 48 square miles, who live in the town of San Bartolomé and 30 surrounding villages. Most people are subsistence farmers, producing beans and corn, but some also have livestock. San Antonio Ilotenango is a small, densely populated rural municipality with 23,633 people in 31 square miles, who live in the town of San Antonio and 33 surrounding villages. Most people are subsistence farmers but many also produce cash crops. San Andrés Sajcabajá is a remote rural municipality with 23,852 inhabitants dispersed throughout 172 square miles, who live in the town of San Andrés and 59 surrounding villages. Most people are subsistence farmers, producing primarily corn and beans. A few families also have livestock and some produce woven-grass crafts.


Lasting water and sanitation solutions can only be achieved when key players—the private sector, civil society, and local government—are supported. As such, Water For People–Guatemala is deeply involved with key local stakeholders, including local municipal governments, the national Ministries of Health and Education, local nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and universities.

Current Work

In addition to increasing water and sanitation coverage in the four target municipalities in 2013, Water For People–Guatemala continues to explore market-based sanitation solutions. With the hiring of a consultant focused on sanitation as a business and the creation of a sustainable sanitation plan, Water For People–Guatemala will have more capacity to explore sanitation as a business option-- such as facilitating access to loans for sanitation, designing sanitation solutions that can be built at lower cost than current available options, and possibly supporting sanitation businesses that could construct low-cost toilets that meet people’s preferences.

View Current Progress


Water For People–Guatemala treats schools as part of the wider community along with local parent associations, governments, and development organizations. Each school intervention is combined with water and sanitation solutions and hygiene education in the associated community, ensuring that hygiene practices taught in schools are reinforced at home. Responsibility for financing and maintenance of the school water and sanitation system is placed on the community and local government, thus taking the burden off the often overwhelmed and underfunded schools.

Water For People–Guatemala’s SWASH+ work has gained national and international attention.

Water For People–Guatemala’s SWASH+ work has rightfully gained national and international attention. In 2012, Water For People–Guatemala won an award for “Best Practices for Promoting Health in the School Environment” from the Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization in the environmental protection category. Water For People–Guatemala’s hygiene education methodology of creating classroom hygiene corners has been adopted in Honduras and Nicaragua.

In the municipalities of the Salinas Watershed, communities are experiencing water shortages, due in part to the effects of climate change. Some springs in the area no longer produce the same quantities of water as in the past. Increasing demand for potable water from communities, combined with the decreasing amount of available water, presents a difficult future. Because of the lack of surface water sources, some communities have started to drill wells, which involve higher costs and the need for groundwater management plans.

Water For People–Guatemala is collaborating with the municipal government, agencies of the national government, and the Quiché Water and Sanitation Network (RASKICHE) to align local efforts to protect the watershed. Current watershed-focused activities supported by Water For People–Guatemala are experimentation with payments for environmental services (whereby a portion of the water fees collected are used for watershed activities), Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) training with municipal authorities, ecological sanitation projects, and promotion of community tree nurseries in coordination with the National Institute of Forests.


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