Improving living conditions and water management in Central America


Picture: IUCN/Ariel Amoroso

In many regions of the world the consequences of climate change are no longer just future scenarios, but have now become an ever-present threat: for example in Central America, where floods and tropical storms are already forcing coastal dwellers to move further inland. The natural livelihood bases of the people in the affected regions are threatened, so that specific measures are needed for adaptation to climate change. Conservation and sustainable management of particular ecosystems could help the local people to adapt to the impacts of climate change, but as yet these challenges are seldom addressed comprehensively at policy level. Water catchments on international borders are especially difficult to manage, since different sectors such as forestry, agriculture and water resources management are governed by different legislation. A major coordination effort is required to devise adaptation strategies under these conditions and to target the deployment of the relevant resources and capacities.

Combining water resources management and climate change adaptation

To send a clear signal to policy-makers regarding the urgency of, and options for, action, an International Climate Initiative (ICI) project is combining the themes of climate change and water management. This work is guided by an understanding that water quality and access to transboundary water resources are issues of major importance to all the countries in the region. The project, which is being implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is researching these connections and has made the results of the studies available to the relevant stakeholders in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. It uses workshops, discussion rounds and advisory services for policy-makers, technical experts and other regional players from civil society and the scientific community to communicate the necessary knowledge about methods of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). Equipped and supported in this way by cross-regional exchange structures, the stakeholders are now able to establish mechanisms for coordinating water use and incorporate EbA guidelines systematically into national planning processes.

Conserving ecosystems on site and using them sustainably

Besides analysing political frameworks, the ICI project also addresses their practical implementation and tests innovative instruments such as those for managing water catchments. To date the project partners have developed adaptation plans for six pilot areas and have implemented measures in collaboration with the local inhabitants. The communities living on the lower reaches of the Rio Paz in El Salvador, for example, have restored the badly silted up catchment for the native mangrove species and have planted 450,000 new mangrove trees. The project is working with the indigenous communities in the binational Sixaola river basin in Costa Rica and Panama to maintain the rich biodiversity and to use it sustainably for the benefit of the people. The connections between the conservation of biodiversity, climate change and food security have been demonstrated at an agricultural trade fair organised by the project. In addition, the project partners identify and promote agricultural production methods that reduce the region's vulnerability. Through measures like these the people in the region not only become less vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, but they are often able to improve their present living conditions as well.