Interview with Maria Luisa Coello Recalde
Director of the Water Regulation and Control Agency
Thank you very much for being here María Luisa. It is an honor to be able to share this interview with our readers. As a friend and professional who I admire, I would like to start by understanding your career prior to becoming the director for the Water Regulation and Control Agency (ARCA). To give our readers context, you graduated from the Higher Polytechnic School of the Coast, one of the most demanding educational institutions in the country. You then received a master’s in Development Economics and a master’s in Environmental Management, specializing in Environmental Economics and Natural Resource Economics from the University of Queensland in Australia. You went on to work with multiple public institutions in Ecuador as Coordinator of the Bank of Ideas in Senescyt, Coordinator of Directions of the Secretariat of Innovation and Transfer of Technology, and later became Provincial Director of Environmental Management of the Provincial GAD of Los Ríos.
Since adolescence I have been very interested in learning about the development of productive activities and their contribution to the economy of my country. I come from a family of farmers in the province of Los Ríos. I grew up seeing the lush and balanced nature of my land, which is indisputably privileged as it is in an astronomical, geographical, and strategic position that has been greatly beneficial as it presents high biodiversity throughout the four regions. However, while some people see it as a service, I see it as a living space that unfortunately has been losing its richness over the years.
When I began my economics degree, I acquired knowledge that showed me the transversality of the environment for the generation of economic resources through the export of raw materials and the import of manufactured products. This awakened in me the importance of promoting innovation towards a green economy. That is where my desire to deepen my knowledge in economics and sustainable development arose. I then made the decision to do my master's degrees in one of the best environmental sciences universities in the world. Studying outside of Ecuador allowed for exchanging lived experiences and customs of respective countries with a diverse student body. I obtained new skills and abilities and chose to return to my country to put my knowledge and experience into practice in the public sector, encouraging innovation focused on environmental conservation and water resource management.
In my work as a public servant, I follow principles of honesty, transparency, and perseverance, which were instilled in me by my parents and has allowed me to reach my current position as Executive Director of ARCA.
There have undoubtedly been difficult moments along this path, because as a young woman I have had to open certain spaces so that my voice is heard and considered in strategic decision-making and in academic and technical debates.
Your experience and your education at the University of Queensland has always been related to environmental issues. Please explain how this has contributed to your duties as Director of the Water Regulation and Control Agency (ARCA), and the global vision of water management in public water policies as a natural resource protected by the Ecuadorian State.
Undoubtedly my studies have provided me with countless experiences and technical knowledge which have strengthened my professional practice. Today, as Executive Director of ARCA, having a global vision enriched by the exchange of customs and knowledge has allowed me to understand the importance of water. It is a fundamental element for the survival of human beings, sustenance of life, the base of developing a productive economy, and a source of energy. This is a strategic resource on which different policies are debated and implemented, which are part of environmental governance at a local, regional, national, and global scale for holistic development.
In recent decades, the international legal framework has promoted several tools regarding the importance and relevance of guaranteeing rights in environmental matters, among which are: the Stockholm Declaration (United Nations, 1972), the World Charter for Nature (United Nations, 1982), the Declaration of the River on the Environment (United Nations, 1992), Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (International Labor Organization, 1989) and the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, adopted on March 4, 2018 in the city of Escazú, Costa Rica and ratified by Ecuador on May 21, 2020. These milestones in water management recognize the roles of co-responsibility with environmental care and the state's duty to guarantee these rights.
In this sense, public policies in Ecuador respond to processes of effective participation with actors from the social and productive sectors of the country, which are part of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations established in the 2030 Agenda. Of notable focus are goals 2 “Zero Hunger”, 6 “Clean water and sanitation”, 11 “Sustainable cities and communities”, 13 “Climate Action” and 15 “Life and Terrestrial Ecosystems.”
These objectives set common goals, which entails the need to strengthen fraternal ties and raise universal proposals regarding the use and conservation of water such as those raised at the Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow last November 2021.
I also know that you are currently studying law. You are a very multidisciplinary professional. Can you please tell us what the Water Regulation and Control Agency (ARCA) is currently doing with regards to the competence assigned in the Water Resources Law to optimize the systems related to public services linked to water.
My insatiable curiosity in the environmental field and water resource management inspired me to further educate myself in complementary and fundamental areas, such as law. As a public servant I intend to always be up to the task of carrying out this position and fulfilling a job for the benefit of the community.
In this sense, we cannot lose sight of the global problem of climate change, which we are facing more severely as days go by. According to Ramón Tamames (2010), global warming is described as a horror story due to its not-so-long-term consequences. All mitigation measures impact various aspects of life. This includes the production of goods and services, international costs of conservation, human health, and quality of life. There is no doubt that there will be a major spike in relation to energy consumption trends and the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as proposed by the Kyoto Protocol (1997).
The debate on governance arises from the need for global economic response. Governance today depends on the "dynamic balance" between the policies and strategies proposed that allow an agreement to be reached between the public administration and the social actors in order to guarantee compliance and support in the progress of each of the proposed strategies.
Thus, the right to water implies not only access and use agreements, but also combining these agreements with participatory and representative decision-making of all interest groups. This should be done while considering the implications that this entails in the management models that must be implemented efficiently in the management of water resources from our cultural vision for social and productive use. This is not an alternative that can be implemented without inter-institutional and social commitment. Co-responsibility and cooperation must be in effect between the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAAE) and governmental and non-governmental organizations such as the Consortium of Provincial Autonomous Governments of Ecuador (CONGOPE), Association of Municipalities of Ecuador (AME), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Andean Development Corporation (CAF), National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, Ministry of Public Health, National Planning Secretariat, Technical Secretariat Ecuador Grows Without Child Malnutrition, among others.
In this context, the Water Regulation and Control Agency must regulate control of the integral and integrated management of water resources, its uses, economic exploitation, and the amount of water in its sources and recharge zones. The quality of public services related to the water sector, promoting the efficient, legal, and the responsible and sustainable use of this heritage will allow us, through national regulations to the sector, to guarantee safe water for human consumption in the future, in both quantity and quality.
For our readers who are mostly from the United States and Canada, can you please explain to us why the Ecuadorian state considers water a national heritage, and the long-term benefits of protecting water in Ecuador?
Our Magna Carta has been revered internationally for being a pioneer in recognizing nature as an autonomous right of the human being. Thus, it establishes that the water resource is part of the strategic national heritage of the State, which includes that its use is public, holds an inalienable and imprescriptible domain of the State, constitutes a vital element for nature and for the existence of human beings, and development of food sovereignty.
We can then understand that the water resource, being a vital element, is closely related to the practice of fundamental rights such as health, life, and work, which allows citizens to exercise their right to good living or Sumak Kawsay. For this reason, the Ecuadorian State is responsible for guaranteeing the right of the population to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, for which it has been applying policies linked to and focused on the integrated and comprehensive management of water resources since it must be understood that water is life, "Yaku Kawsay", in order to guarantee the quality and quantity of this resource in the long term.
Thank you very much, Director, for your time. As a final message for our readers, can you share with us about the importance of rational water management that we have in our country. Unlike other countries, Ecuador seems to be doing a good job in protecting this vital natural resource to guarantee life and productive activities in the future, taking into account that Ecuador is the country with the largest number of rivers per unit area in the world with 143,000,000,000 mᶟ/year aprox. in its channels, lakes, and reservoirs that are located on two large slopes: the Pacific Ocean with 72 hydrographic basins and the Eastern or Amazon slope with 7 hydrographic basins.
That's right, Ecuador has promoted various important initiatives, the most recent being the expansion of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and the relevance of these benefits in conservation.
Additionally, there are several projects focused on the regulation and control of the sector that seek to link the participation and commitment of the social and productive sectors in a co-responsible management of the use and exploitation of water. For this reason, my message is addressed to all citizens regardless of our profession or nationality since the importance of conserving water resources is a common and universal objective.
I call on Ecuadorians and foreigners who have decided to live in our wonderful country to raise awareness and save water, to commit ourselves to conservation in order to continue being one of the richest countries in natural resources, especially water. Governance and conservation are the responsibility of everyone because water is the hope of humanity.