Expert profile: Water Coordinator Rocio Cordoba

Fifteen years of experience in most areas of work is a time after which most people start to feel bored and tired of the everyday routine. This, however, is not likely to happen if you’re working in conservation and it’s certainly not going to happen if you’re IUCN’s Rocio Córdoba.

Rocio Cordoba

Every project that Rocio Córdoba has been involved in – whether it was related to wetlands, coastal areas, water or watersheds – has been a journey full of unique experiences, great satisfaction and precious lessons learnt. But most importantly, it has been an opportunity to help and interact with local people – often poor and living in difficult conditions but always smiling, full of hope and good intentions. A priceless experience that no school will ever give you.

Rocio has worked mostly in the Meso American region (Central America and Mexico) and various countries in South America, specifically dealing with water resources. And water has been a central element throughout her career.

"Water is the blood of our so-called blue planet. Water is the centre of life and can get people together or separate them causing disputes or disagreements. 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."

But with today’s growing population and the ravaging effects of climate change, nothing seems more precious than water. And nothing seems more challenging than working to ensure that there is enough of it for everyone.

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over said Mark Twain, so the big challenges of this work are 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 yet 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."

"Another problem is that water users such as big farms, industries and wealthy people usually don’t want to recognize other people’s needs or rights to use water. And this is a target group that’s particularly difficult to deal with."

"Extreme conditions such as droughts, floods and landslides make it even more difficult to manage water resources and ecosystems in a more integrated way. And finally, inadequate legal frameworks in most Mesoamerican countries and a lack of political will make these challenges very hard to address."

Rocio has been involved in many different projects and processes but there is one important element that has been most precious to her: the ability to work with local communities.

"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 Regional Coordinator for the Water Programme in Mesoamerica based in San José, Costa Rica. She has been part of the 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.

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