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In most developing countries, scavenging, or the recuperation and recycling of waste products, helps to bring in this critical additional income. The majority of those living and working in these scavenger communities are women, and their daily reality leaves them in a tenuous socioeconomic position. An IDRC-supported project helped empower one such community by working with women to establish a platform to work with local authorities on issues of policy, infrastructure, and urban planning.

In Cochabamba, Bolivia’s fourth-largest city, roughly 1,200 people spend their days scavenging the K’ara K’ara dump’s 600 metric tons of solid waste. Women of indigenous origin, who live in informal settlements in the surrounding area with their children and families, make up 80% of these scavengers. For many, this is their sole source of income, leaving them reliant on an uncertain economy.  

Due to Bolivia’s decentralized urban infrastructure, the local government maintains sole responsibility for the dump’s management — but insufficient resources and technical expertise led to serious health risks from air, land, and water contamination. This, in turn, created significant social conflict among the people living in and around the K'ara K'ara dump.

Through IDRC’s Focus City Cochabamba initiative, researchers investigated the environmental impacts of the dump on the livelihoods of these people — mostly women and their families — and other residents of Cochabamba. The findings have been used to implement an evidence-based Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, which includes an environmental education strategy to lay the foundation for the plan’s long-term sustainability.

Among the first steps necessary to address this kind of social vulnerability and implement sound adaptation strategies is to legitimize an otherwise-informal labour force. The project accomplished this by emphasizing the important social and economic role of the scavenger groups. As a result, the community shifted from a passive culture to having an active and participatory role in environmental and infrastructure governance. Women in particular were demonstrably empowered, creating an association called “El Porvenir” and using recycled paper for the production of Christmas cards and handicrafts.

Other outcomes included the establishment of 700 battery-collection “green points”, and pilot projects such as workshops and training sessions that reached more than 2,500 people, including women from the scavenger communities, municipal technicians, policymakers, and school teachers.


Country Profile

The Bolivian government’s major challenge is to achieve economic growth, including for its indigenous people who form more than half of the population. Our assistance has focused on research to advance this goal.

As a result, we’ve helped strengthen Bolivia’s capacity to conduct research on issues such as healthcare systems, mining policies, natural resource management, labour force development, waste management, and land use reforms.

Water conflicts resolved

Control of natural resources has long been at the forefront of Bolivian political conflicts. Access to water has been an especially divisive issue. Rural users often compete for irrigation and household water with private companies and large mining and hydroelectric plants.

IDRC-supported studies have helped resolve water disputes. Using a mathematical simulation model, researchers produced a water distribution proposal acceptable to all users that legitimized the traditional water rights of rural people. These rights were included in an irrigation law passed in 2004 — a remarkable achievement, given the failure of 32 previous attempts to reach such agreement. In 2009, water rights were incorporated into Bolivia’s new constitution.

Improved economic development planning

Decentralization in Bolivia has given municipalities greater responsibility for economic development. From 2002 to 2007, we supported a Canadian-Bolivian collaboration that developed and tested a participatory method to map local assets — such as cattle, crop yields, and small businesses — and potential labour supplies for economic development.

Hundreds of Bolivian communities used the method to design local economic development plans based on the new, comprehensive, and reliable data. The method also helped the Government of Bolivia draft the country’s Development Plan for 2010–2015.

Total IDRC Support

153 activities worth CAD $32.9 million since 1974

Farmer harvesting crops in Bolivia.

Our support is helping

  • stimulate high-quality, policy-relevant research by Bolivians
  • test climate change strategies to improve ecosystems and human health
  • create healthier, more environmentally-sustainable rural communities
  • use fish consumption to increase productivity and income in the Bolivian Amazon


Explore research projects we support in this region.

Photo:Adam Cohn/ Flickr