La Sirena is a settlement in the hilly periurban area on the edge of Cali, Colombia. Due to migration from rural areas, Sirena now has a population of 3500 families in 500 houses. The pumping of water from the city plains to periurban areas in the hills is usually very expensive and until 1984, water was distributed to residents through hoses, no water treatment was available, and there was a reduction of water flow during the summer. La Sirena has a history of community initiated projects such as its first water system, and community initiated procedures for the legal ownership of occupied plots. In 1984, a project for the improvement of the water supply was initiated by the residents of La Sirena who participated actively in the implementation, management and operation and maintenance of the project. Through a communal organization, residents requested the technical assistance of the InterRegional Centre for Water Supply and Drainage CINARA, of the University of Valle, to assist in designing an improved system. The objective was to develop a new system which includes multi-stage filtration providing multibarrier treatment to make the water fit for human consumption. Also a PVC distribution network was established providing water through house connections.
The community, through its elected Community Action Committee, planned and designed the intervention and cofinanced the investment costs, both in cash and labour. Financial assistance in the initial phase came from Beneficencia del Valle, the regional and local Health Departments, the Dutch Embassy in Colombia, and the local private sector. CINARA provided training for the Community Action Committee in financial management and the control and supervision of the water supply which includes: control and supervision of water quality and use, institutional management of the technical and administrative support received, establishment and charging of tariffs, authorization of domestic connections, repair and acquisition of spare parts, contracting and payment of personnel, and operation and maintenance of the system. The construction was completed in 1987 and since then the system has been successfully managed by the Community Action Committee, elected by the users. Since the completion of the water supply system, the inhabitants of La Sirena have constructed a health centre, paved the streets, ameliorated the sewage system, installed a network for water distribution from the aqueduct and undertaken negotiations with governmental organizations for funding. During the period of improvement of the system, women held the position of president and treasurer of the Committee and, even though men now have the formal management positions, their wives carry out an important part of the administration of the water supply aqueduct when the men are working at their daily jobs. Furthermore, women have set up businesses with the use of the improved water supply.
The La Sirena project provides a model for helping communities in periurban areas to solve their problems of water supply through the development of water sources available in these areas. This includes the use of nonconventional technology and the stimulation of participatory projects where the community plays the role of services manager while external institutions provide periodic support. Resources received through tariffs cover all regular operation and maintenance costs of the water supply in La Sirena. Large repairs and enlargement of the system require external financial support. Nevertheless, the community has contributed to the investment costs and has raised the funds needed to finish the seweragedrainage system. The impacts of the project include: (1) socialorganizational the project in La Sirena is part of a Participatory ActionResearch Project to strengthen community management of water supply and sanitation in which the organization and management skills of community members have been strengthened and gender equality has been improved; (2) social and cultural 70 percent of the population of La Sirena participated in the project and a communal entity has been implemented; (3) political and urban the project stimulated more democratic participation and community autonomy; (4) ecological the majority of the population perceives water resources as a source of development and well-being facilitating the work done by the Communal Council regarding water control; (5) economic women have been freed from fetching water and the "La Sirena Labour Entrepreneurial Association" formed by 16 women and one man has increased domestic businesses; (6) institutional the experience of La Sirena has shown that organized communities, with institutional support, are capable of assuming the autonomous management of their water systems and this example is being replicated in other periurban communities of Cali.