Pilot site: El Aguacate microwatershed (Paz River)

Río Paz

Description of the pilot site

The Paz River basin is shared between Guatemala and El Salvador, and it has a total area of 2,647 Km²,
34% of which belongs to El Salvador and 66% of which belongs to Guatemala (National Service of Territorial Studies, SNET, 2002). The Paz River springs from the department of Jutiapa, Guatemala, at 1,700 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l). El Aguacate micro basin is located in the lower part of Paz River basin. It is also known as Zanjón del Aguacate or Brazo del río Paz.

The land features wetlands such as mangroves, marshes, rivers, lakes and the sea. Over 70% of the area’s population depends directly on the ecosystem services provided by such wetlands, especially fishing, (including fishing of crustaceans and mollusks), agriculture, wood and firewood. Water is of vital importance for the 19 communities that profit from these livelihoods. Also, freshwater is fundamental for the reproduction of species in marine coastal ecosystems. Freshwater from Paz River and its tributaries is the main regulator of salinity levels and of mangroves and it also feeds into the coastal aquifer which sustains the population’s productive activities.

Nonetheless, ecosystems in the area are being unsustainably used, limiting their capacity to continue providing their ecosystem services, and putting the area’s population in a situation of higher vulnerability.

Impact of climate scenarios on livelihoods

Considering the expected precipitation reduction of over 15% per year during the course of this century, and the displacement of the high tide line caused by a sea level rise, there is a real threat for mangrove ecosystems and the livelihoods which depend on them.

Details on the impact of the loss of marine resources on a community´s livelihood

There is currently a water imbalance in the coastal zone of the Paz River basin, due to changes in soil and poor management of the basin mostly in its middle and higher parts. This is also due to changes in the course of the river. Such changes are linked to extreme rainfall or associated events, such as Hurricane Camille in 1964, and Hurricane Fifi in 1974, which divided the river up into two. This led to a decrease in water availability and quality thus changing the amount of water flowing to El Botoncillo mangrove forest, and leading to a loss of aquatic and marine coastal ecosystems. It is expected that the loss of freshwater will lead to an impoverishment of the mangrove ecosystem´s services and functions, particularly in the area of Garita Palmera. The reduction may also have affected the balance between salt and fresh water in the coastal aquifer, inducing saline intrusion, upsetting salt balances in mangroves and river mouths, and affecting ecosystem productivity in the marine coastal zone.


Since it is estimated that the major threat would be a reduction of freshwater resources in the coastal area, an opportunity arises to take adaptation measures for the promotion of water governance approaches which favour integrated water management between the different users, their production activities (agriculture, cattle farming), and the ecosystem´s needs.

It is necessary to identify opportunities for people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries and on water resources such as coastline fish, mollusks or crustaceans in order to generate more detailed scenarios on the possible impacts of sea level rise on mangroves, and to determine more precisely the effects of such impacts on in the fishing resources of which populations earn their livelihoods.

Results from CRiSTAL

A workshop was organized around the application of the CRiSTAL tool, which serves to identify vulnerabilities which threaten the livelihoods and well-being of communities of the Paz River basin in El Salvador.

The application of the CRiSTAL tool in El Aguacate River watershed showed that the main vulnerabilities to which communities are exposed are flooding, recurrent droughts, high winds and rising sea levels. These all cause impacts such as loss of crops, destruction of homes and of infrastructure, food shortages, pollution and soil salinization.

Some of the factors which contribute to climate change vulnerability in this area include poverty, ecosystem degradation and institutional weaknesses.

Adaptation measures and implementation strategy


  1. Establish a governance structure for El Aguacate microwatershed;
  2. Recovery of mangroves as a mechanism to strengthen communities’ livelihoods;
  3. Implementation of agricultural and livestock initiative based on sustainable models of productive diversification.