Investing in Water Knowledge - Sharing WANI Lessons between Oceania and Central America

15 June 2010 | News story

Remote communities and watershed challenges such as disaster risk reduction, are what we share” said Dr. Milika Sobey, Water Coordinator for the IUCN Oceania Regional Office based in Fiji.

She was describing the similarities between watershed management challenges in the Pacific Islands, and those in the Tacaná region of Guatemala.

Exchanging experiences between regions is critical for the Water and Nature Initiative” said Rocio Cordoba, Water Coordinator for the Mesoamerican Regional Office based in Costa Rica, “the challenges to good water management are similar across many parts of the world, and sharing our experience here in Tacaná is important for our global learning approach, and as part of our own self-assessment and progress review”.

Led by Tacaná project staff, based in San Marcos, and joined by members of the global Water Programme, the exchange allowed the teams to visit communities in the upper watersheds of the Coatán and Suchiate river basins. Meetings were held with representatives of microwatershed councils to discuss their watershed management plans, and to see some of the remarkable progress they have made in making these steep high altitude mountain valleys better places to live. Improved agricultural practices, tree nurseries for re-planting slopes, latrine and drainage systems, and piped water supply systems have helped the communities recover after the devastation caused by Hurricane Stan in October 2005.

We lost so much” said Roberto Escalante, Head of the Esquichá Microwatershed, “our valley suffered many landslides which destroyed buildings, forests, fields, water systems – our livelihoods disappeared overnight”. Establishing a microwatershed council allowed the community to identify the risks in their valley and the factors which increased this risk such as tree removal, unmanaged grazing, and lack of terracing on steep slopes. Through re-building, proper planning, and extraordinary community spirit and determination, the mountain valleys have once again become productive systems, providing livelihoods and sustainable ecosystems which contain native tree species and healthy soils.

Originally supported by the Water and Nature Initiative, microwatershed plans have opened up a range of different activities through support from the Livelihoods and Landscape Initiative, the Global Water Initiative, and the Dutch Embassy in Guatemala City.

The Sanajabá and Canatzaj communities in the Esquichá River microwatershed have been able to develop improved rural water supply systems, laundry washing points with improved drainage to reduce the occurrence of mosquitoes, and improved sanitation. Innovative production systems, such as wormeries, agroforestry approaches to stabilize steep slopes for crop growing, and tree nurseries to provide trees for replanting, have all developed out of the microwatershed planning approach.

Microwatershed councils have become coordination nodes – areas of experience for the communities. Lessons are shared across communities and watersheds through family ties, radio, and trade” said Rocio Cordoba. “There are some very important lessons here for us about how to implement Integrated Water Resource Management in the Pacific” said Dr Sobey, “the knowledge the communities have developed due to the isolation from main infrastructure and more centralized approaches, has enabled them to invest in themselves, and to learn what works. On small islands we face many of the same challenges. I will be sharing these lessons with communities in Kadavu and Nadi in Fiji, and with our colleagues in Samoa”.

For further information contact:
Rocio Cordoba, Water Coordinator for the IUCN Mesoamerica Regional Office:
Milika Sobey, Water Coordinator for the IUCN Oceania Regional Office:


View of logging road in the Cameroon Forests