User cooperatives as a commons model for the management of urban water and wastewater services: the case of SAGUAPAC in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

By Bernard De Gouvello

The provision of urban water and sanitation services is generally under direct public management or private management – mostly in the form of delegated services. While other forms of management exist, such as user cooperatives, they operate mainly in rural areas or in ‘peripheral’ urban contexts. The case of the SAGUAPAC cooperative, which manages the water and sanitation services of Bolivia’s largest conurbation, is a case in point. At a time when we are witnessing a return of the commons, studying this example by analysing the conditions which made it possible allows us to ask: under what conditions does the users’ cooperative constitute a possible variation of a logic of common in terms of the management of water and sanitation services in urban centers?
After having situated the interest of studying the case of the SAGUAPAC cooperative in the perspective of an analysis in terms of commons and having drawn a brief portrait of the characteristics of the cooperative, the article proposes a synthetic account of the history of the cooperative from its creation in 1979 to the present day. The principles of governance developed by the cooperative to ensure its durability are then characterized by highlighting the conditions under which they were developed. The analysis of these conditions then leads us to qualify as limited the scope of this experience.

  • water
  • sanitation
  • user cooperative
  • commons
  • Bolivia
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