Continuing our countdown to World Water Day, which is celebrated each year on 22 March, we zoom in on Costa Rica to interview IUCN's Rocio Cordoba on water cooperation in the Mesoamerica region.
Rocio Cordoba is the Livelihoods and Climate Change Coordinator for Mesoamerica, but she also manages the IUCN Water portfolio in the region. This work includes the BRIDGE project which focuses on transboundary river cooperation and dialogue. As this year's World Water Day theme is Water Cooperation, Rocio answers questions on the challenges and rewards of water cooperation in the Mesoamerica Region:
Q. With today’s growing population and climate change impacts, nothing seems more challenging than working to ensure there is enough water for everyone. How do you deal with this challenge?
"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over", said Mark Twain, so the big challenges of the work we do is to build consensus between different water users, as well as to conserve and manage water resources. But what’s even more challenging is to demonstrate that ecosystems, biodiversity and a healthy environment are also responsible for conserving water quality and quantity. Unfortunately, people see environmental goods and services that conserve water resources as more ‘water users’ to compete with. So we need to convince them that ecosystems are also ‘water producers’ that need to be taken care of."
Q. Are there specific conditions in the Mesoamerica region exacerbating the cooperation challenge?
"Extreme conditions such as droughts, floods and landslides make it even more difficult to manage water resources and ecosystems in a more integrated way. Additionally, inadequate legal frameworks in most Mesoamerican countries and a lack of political will make these challenges very hard to address. But we need to remember that water is the blood of our so-called blue planet. Water is the centre of life and can get people together or separate them. In the end, water is everyone’s business: rich and poor, rural or urban: all kind of users and people’s livelihoods depend on water everywhere in the world".
Q. How is water cooperation best approached in Mesoamerica? How does the BRIDGE project build water cooperation in your region?
"In our region, we believe it is very important to build cooperation capacities from the grassroots, and above all to scale up the message to the highest political level; in order to demonstrate that it can be a joint effort and that this in no way constitutes a threat, if not rather an opportunity for countries to have levels of cooperation that benefit all the countries sharing a basin. The BRIDGE project will continue strengthening these capacities for cooperation at all levels, building from the ground and from the highest political levels. In order to have an understanding that we are all going towards the conservation and sustainable management of watersheds and especially for the improvement of the quality of life of the people."
Q. Despite the challenges, what are the rewards in this kind of work?
"I’ve been able to work at different levels: from community men, women and youth to high level policy decision makers. Seeing the wonderful smiles from people within the local communities and hearing about their dreams and hopes regarding the sustainable use of water resources is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve had in my life. Influencing local, national and regional policies is another interesting side of the story. Seeing restored ecosystems thanks to hard-working people with strong convictions on sustainable use is very satisfactory."
Rocio Córdoba has been working for IUCN since 1995, initially as a consultant, and is now the Livelihoods and Climate Change Coordinator for Mesoamerica based in San José, Costa Rica. She has been part of IUCN’s Global Water Programme team throughout the implementation of its Water and Nature Initiative. Before joining IUCN, Rocío worked for the National University and National Parks Foundation in Costa Rica. She has a Master’s of Science degree in Biology from the University of Costa Rica.
Rocio can be reached by email: rocio.cordoba[at]iucn.org