Mayor Manuel Dominguez is leveraging a tiny investment of US foreign aid to budget for a sound future for his community.
What comes to mind when you picture the Amazon forest—dense, lush, green... garbage?
As mayor of San Martin Alao in northern Peru, Dominguez had been trying for years to access funds from the Peruvian government to deal with the increasing piles of trash. A mountain of waste was rising as his town grew, actually obstructing views of the forest.
While Dominguez was fully committed to using his limited city budget as best as he could to tackle the problem, it was not until USAID began providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Environment, that Dominguez succeeded getting significant funds from the national government, through the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
It had been difficult for the Ministry of Environment to ensure that municipalities had a comprehensive approach to waste management beyond garbage collection or that they had selected appropriate types of technology for population levels. The Ministry of Economy and Finance were reluctant to fund local projects that didn't meet their stiff financial and technical requirements, despite political pressure to place more public investments in provinces outside the capital city of Lima. Municipalities needed increased funding levels to make significant improvements in waste management, but required technical training on project development to access the funds.
With USAID support, the Ministry of Environment was able to address these core issues by delivering trainings for local officials. The Ministry of Economy and Finance was then comfortable releasing funds to San Martin Alao and other municipalities aimed at solving the problem of local waste management. Manuel and his staff at San Martin Alao were only a few of the 1,500 local officials across four of the poorest regions of the country who benefited from a multi-month training series, mentoring, and hands-on tools.
"We jumped off our seats when the proposal had been approved!" Mayor Dominguez says. "For the first time, we were able to make [a] quality public investment of this size in San Martin Alao." Dominguez is now able to lead his town to collect, treat and dispose of solid waste, according to sound environmental standards.
Despite being one the best performing economies in Latin America, Peru remains challenged by poverty and disparities. Provinces and localities, and particularly indigenous communities historically left behind, are increasingly asking for a fair share of the country's gains.
A decade ago, Peru's civil society pushed for a decentralization process to begin, in order to monitor public revenues generated by extractive industries and to transfer revenue collection and expenditure from the national government to regional and local government. Today, 350,000 ordinary Peruvians participate annually across the country in the participatory budget processes that allow citizens more opportunity to define government priorities according to their needs.
"What the USAID partnership allowed us to do was to bring together all these different needs, actors, and resources at national, regional and local levels, which already existed in Peru, to solve a shared problem," says Rosa Salas, director of the project at the Peruvian Ministry of Environment, who joined forces with Magda Ushiñahua, a counterpart at the Peruvian Ministry of Economy and Finance, to bring about these changes. Peruvian taxpayer money has now been allocated for 127 municipalities to participate, benefitting an expected 5.65 million people. These municipalities were neglected before the decentralization process began and deepened, giving Peruvian local civic leaders a greater opportunity to unlock domestic resources to protect the health and well-being of their citizens and the surrounding Amazon.
"My people and I can stop pollution in our district. We just needed a partner. We know how to get it done," Dominguez says.
"It's up to us now. This investment will help us get there."
In recent years, the US government launched policy reforms that make US foreign aid more accountable to you and local leaders like Manuel Dominguez.
Aid works best when it supports local actors to take action and change the circumstances which place or keep them or their fellow citizens in poverty—supporting them to build a dream, build a business, support their family, or help their community.
That's why Oxfam America is working to deepen the US government's commitment to making aid more effective. They can do so by putting more US aid dollars directly in the hands of people like Manuel Dominguez.
Note: Oxfam America doesn't take federal funds, but we do support effective development programs. In 2012, the Aid Effectiveness Team conducted research to highlight effective uses of the 1% of foreign aid the U.S. government spends on poverty reduction and other life-saving assistance. The people featured in this series are not necessarily receiving direct assistance from Oxfam.