Due to its relatively high annual rainfall, Central American communities should have sufficient renewable water resources to meet their immediate and long-term water consumption demands. Nevertheless, water insecurity occurs in every country in the region for several reasons. First, less than 10 percent of available water resources are harvested and managed for human activities; second, populations are concentrated in the drier, Pacific side of the region; third, socioeconomic inequity is reflected in uneven water service delivery (particularly in rural parts of the country); fourth, water policy is fragmented and antiquated, leading to inefficient and unsustainable water resource management and finally, contamination of ground and surface water and deforestation of critical watershed areas are making clean water scarcer and reducing the water production potential in the region.
As populations become more urban (up from 39 percent in 1970 to 57 percent in 2005 within the region) and the economy and industry expand, water demand increases, which adds pressure for finding solutions for efficient water resource management and service delivery, particularly for the very poor.
GWI in Central America is called Proyecto Mi Cuenca, translated “My Watershed,” and is a consortium led by Catholic Relief Services in partnership with CARE, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and 10 local nongovernmental organizations, with operations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Using the conceptual framework of Integrated Water Resource Management1 (IWRM), the objectives of Proyecto Mi Cuenca are to improve the ability of rural communities to cope with water-related shocks (such as droughts, floods, landslides, and conflicts), ensure water security for rural communities, and foster an enabling environment to promote and expand pro-poor water resource management in Central America.
With these objectives in mind, GWI interventions in Central America included: (a) protecting and improving water sources, (b) strengthening local governance for water resources, (c) building local capacity to build and maintain water supply infrastructure and (d) promoting hygiene and sanitation in communities, particularly focused on children and women.
The initial year of the program emphasized infrastructure, which was a necessary and helpful strategy that put a lot of work on the ground quickly, created momentum, and generated strong rapport with community and government leaders. However, in mid 2009 senior project staff raised important strategic questions about how important it was to move beyond traditional water and sanitation projects and focus on interventions that could generate the kinds of sustainable and long-term impacts envisioned by the project. Through formal meetings and informal discussions, partners decided to reinforce the concept of IWRM as a strategic focus.
We recognize that the challenge is for the GWI staff and the communities we support to envision Mi Cuenca as an integrated project that is tailored to the context of each watershed or community and responds to the specific needs in each, and to have the space and time to evaluate the progress of the project toward achieving long-term outcomes and impacts.
1 IWRM uses a watershed as a focal point for bringing together the various water users from both public and private sectors, whose interests in water are multiple, divergent and sometimes competing. The expectation is that participatory, deliberate and well-informed planning and decision making concerning the water resource will lead to equitable and sustainable use.