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Uruguay’s National Water Plan

Plan Nacional de Aguas de Uruguay

Plan national de l’eau de l’Uruguay

Aerial view of a port in Montevideo, Uruguay

Lessons from Reformers

This case study was originally posted in the OGP Global Report.

Uruguay’s 2004 constitutional reform reversed privatization of water and sanitation services. This reform signaled a significant public interest in water and sanitation governance. In 2010, the government initiated a “National Water Plan” (NWP) to enact the constitutional reform. By design, the NWP was required to include perspectives, concerns, and proposals from diverse sectors of society. To achieve its inclusive goals, the government took the following steps:

  • Launched a dialogue process for the NWP;
  • Held formal discussions about the NWP as required by the relevant laws;
  • Created informal spaces for discussion with at least four public meetings and publication of the discussion findings online and
  • Raised awareness by introducing the NWP as part of World Water Day.

Uruguay’s concerted approach to broader community engagement worked. The planning process has seen significant progress over the last several years:

  • More than 1,500 people participated in formal discussions around the country, including officials, parliamentarians, departmental governments, academia, social organizations, trade unions, media, and citizens.
  • The University of the Republic successfully led a dedicated citizen engagement project, leveraging pre-existing platforms such as regional water committees and watershed commissions.
  • Following the broad stakeholder engagement, feedback was integrated into the final version of the NWP. Successfully approved at the highest levels of government, the final plan defined ten programs and 30 projects, and established the basis for the formulation of regional plans and premises at the basin level.

Importantly, Uruguay’s approach strengthened public systems– reaffirming the value of greater community engagement in decision-making processes. Moving forward, OGP’s IRM national researchers have recommended building on the success of the NWP by introducing a citizen monitoring system, and possibly expanding the engagement model to other sectors, such as housing, health, or education.

OGP peers can benefit as well. The Uruguay model provides several lessons to others looking to increase participation in sectoral planning:

  • Publicly document progress: NWP progress was regularly captured through news updates online, ensuring full transparency in the development process. This helped develop momentum around the process.
  • Ensure institutional support: Beyond simply responding to a legal requirement, this process had support from the Office of the President. This high-level prioritization can accelerate progress and help ensure success.
  • Leverage existing institutions: Rather than create new structures to facilitate participation, the development of the NWP invited input from existing institutions like the Regional Water Committees. This approach can build legitimacy by working with well-connected stakeholders and also accelerate the process by avoiding the time-intensive work of developing new stakeholder platforms.

Photo Credit: Matyas Rehak, Adobe Stock

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