Besides its UNESCO designation as a World Heritage City, Cuenca also bears the distinction of being a “Healthy City.”
According to the Pan American Health Organization, which bestowed the health honor, Cuenca´s policies to provide medical services to its population, to protect its drinking water and to improve the environment distinguish it among Latin American cities.
According to David Acurio, assistant Azuay coordinator for health projects, the quantity and quality of Cuenca´s medical facilities is a major factor in the honor. “We have more than 40 hospitals and large clinics providing access to citizens and visitors. This makes us the center of quality medical services in southern Ecuador.”
Acurio adds that the city has developed policies to deal with health requirements in the community. “Planning for the future is very important to us,” he says.
In addition to medical care, the Cuenca has been cited for its efforts to protect its water resources. “Water is critically important to the welfare of any community and shortages and pollution are creating crises in many parts of the world,” says Acurio.
In the past, Cuenca has been recognized for its state of the arts potable water system and for protecting its watershed in the Cajas Mountains. In 2007, an international organization of water engineers called the city´s water the best in Latin America for cities of population of more than 100,000.
"Our current plans provide for optimal water service until 2030, and resources will be plentiful well beyond that," says municipal water manager Oswaldo Larriva.
The Pan American report also noted the abundance of Cuenca´s water source. “While many cities struggle to plan for future growth because of limited water, Cuenca´s resources appear to be more than ample,” the report says. Although Cuenca receives only 28 inches of rain annually, areas of the Cajas mountains that supply the watershed average as much as 100 inches a year.
Larriva adds that the city has taken aggressive action in recent years to deal with pollution of the rivers and streams that flow through Cuenca. “There is still work to do but we have made great progress and will be continue our efforts.”
In addition to addressing water pollution, according to Pan American, Cuenca has taken measures to improve air quality by mandating exhaust emission tests for cars and trucks and by installing air quality monitors around the city. “We are especially impressed by plans to reduce the number of diesel-fuelled buses in the city, especially in the historic district,” the report says. Plans are being discussed to install a light rail service in parts of the city and to replace diesel with propane gas to fuel some buses.
Cuenca was first declared a "Healthy City" by the Pan American Health Organization in April 2007, a distinction shared with 24 other cities in Latin America.