Digitally tracking sanitation solutions in Colombia

Practicing open defecation (OD) is associated with multiple potentially lethal diseases and illnesses that particularly affect children under the age of 5. Diseases and illnesses include: acute diarrhea, vector-borne diseases, and respiratory infections. All of which may cause stunted growth, malnutrition, and death. Today in Colombia, 1.3 million people practice OD. Since 2020, the Government of Colombia and UNICEF have led partners in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in a coordinated effort to design and implement sanitation programming that aims to support the creation of public policies, and eliminate OD before 2030. In 2023, Akvo teamed-up with UNICEF to build a web portal that generates insights regarding basic sanitation needs and solutions at the community, departmental, and national levels. 

Above: picture of La Guajira from UNICEF


La Guajira, Colombia


Water and sanitation


Data platform

The challenge

La Guajira is a Colombian department located in the country’s northeast peninsula. La Guajira faces dire challenges related to water scarcity, and limited access to sanitation in rural areas. A main reason for these problems is because primary water sources such as the Ranchería River, and jagüeyes, have dried-up due to years of intense drought and overuse. Additionally, there’s insufficient local investment and implementation of sustainable water and sanitation projects. Consequently, the local indigenous population, mainly the Wayúu, do not have consistent access to potable water and sanitation. This results in high rates of diseases and other health repercussions causing infant deaths that would otherwise be preventable. As sanitation programming is being implemented by UNICEF and Colombia WASH partners, there needs to be a way to understand and use data for tracking program progress, integrate data from other Colombian departments, inform public policy decision making, and stimulate involvement of other actors and authorities. The sanitation web portal was created to meet this need.

The solution

The Akvo team worked with UNICEF Colombia and its implementing partner Fundación Halü to understand current sanitation-related data systems in La Guajira. First, an examination of existing databases, indicators, and data collection processes was carried out. Second, a web portal was built to visually present data and insights, as well as the progress of ongoing interventions. The web portal shows activities and management schemes being carried out in La Guajira that address sanitation needs, plus maps key WASH community sites such as schools. Data visualizations are available to be accessed by other actors, thus allowing decision makers at various levels to act on information. The portal aligns with national information systems that measure sanitation in Colombia, making it easy for program leaders to prioritize intervention locations based on vulnerability, risks and needs. The portal will be officially launched in 2024, and is intended to be adopted by other regions in Colombia. 

Above: The data platform to track sanitation solutions in La Guajira. 

The impact

Akvo works with partners to understand and improve data processes, and build digital platforms that are sustainable and scalable. Sustainability is attained by strengthening local skills in order to maintain systems autonomously. Scaling sanitation solutions to more communities, municipalities, and departments of Colombia is built into the initial design of the web portal, and therefore should be used as a key tool on the pathway towards achieving the complete elimination of OD and fecal contamination in Colombia.