Civil Engineer Axel Martinez, 26, from Nicaragua, spent five months as a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under GWP’s Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP). He worked in GWP Central America’s regional office from August to December 2018. In this blog post, he shares reflections on his activities.
Central America is a narrow strip that unites the two great Americas. Despite its small size, it is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, dreamlike landscapes, happy people, diverse cultures, and abundant natural resources – especially water resources. However, it is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world to climate change. To address that challenge it is crucial to implement the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach. GWP Central America is working to promote IWRM and strengthen local capacities in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
I was fortunate to be selected as an intern for WACDEP’s Young Professional Development Initiative. As part of the internship I had the opportunity to travel through the region and work with experienced professionals, as well as young professionals, who like me, work every day for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6): Clean water and sanitation for all – with the important pledge of leaving no one behind.
I was tasked to document success stories in the implementation of IWRM in WACDEP pilot projects, and write case studies. The stories had to include the different points of view of the actors involved in the project, as well as their lessons learned – the knowledge they considered useful and valuable for successful interventions.
Central American extremes
The effects of climate change in Central America are reflected in more intense, recurrent, and prolonged hydro-meteorological phenomena that are manifested in two extremes of the same spectrum: floods and drought. Other variables such as rapid environmental degradation, lack of territorial ordering, institutional weaknesses, a polarized political scenario or lack of resilient infrastructure make this challenge more complex.
My investigations focused on the Central American “Dry Corridor” and Panama’s Arco Seco (dry region). The drought, boosted by “El Niño” – the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon – put the region in jeopardy, causing severe damage to the agriculture, hydropower, and WASH sectors. The drought put the water and food security of a large part of the population at risk, especially of dispersed rural communities that, due to the nature of their condition, do not have the means to face extreme situations of this type. These were the communities that the pilot projects were for. While the common challenge faced by these communities was drought, innovation was the common response. GWP Central America articulated the efforts of its members and connected them to benefit the communities, by bringing dispersed sectors together.
In places where water services are not available, rainwater harvesting systems have been an effective alternative. In Honduras, a geomembrane storage technology was developed that reduces costs by 75% versus other methods such as plastic tanks. GWP Central America saw the opportunity to extend the technology to the rest of the countries in the region, and to implement IWRM and a gender approach.
In a youth-led project in El Salvador, women were trained to implement the systems, thus enhancing their role in community decision-making and demonstrating that equality in community water management is possible. This project included other actors: the national government, municipality, private sector and international cooperation. The young professional who led this project put this solution on the global map, winning funds at an international level. The project will go on to a second phase in El Salvador. And today this technology is offered in the regional market and the Honduran government is interested in adopting it into public policy in response to droughts.
In Panama, innovation was also key, but this time through clean and renewable energy for the extraction of water in a community of “Arco Seco”. They used a pump powered by wind energy. The academic sector led the project – the Technical University of Panama (UTP) coordinated, with the support of the central government, for the necessary studies and the community gave on-site support. It is noteworthy that the students were fully committed to the project and were able to put their skills into practice at the service of their local context in an investigation that continues to look for ways to improve future projects. The initiative is also an example of solutions focused on the Water-Energy-Food nexus. It was awarded the UTP “Cuásar Prize” of Social Innovation.
During the internship, Alex also supported GWP Central America in preparing for a regional SDG6 event, workshops on incorporating IWRM in risk management planning, and in integrated drought management, as well as youth events. Alex also highlights the work of volunteers of the Central American Youth Water Network for Water, and community-based water management organisations that work every day to conserve the world’s resources. A Spanish version of Alex’ blog is available on the GWP Central America website.