The United States government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), launched the Upper Lempa Watershed Project, which will benefit 180,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The agreement was announced on October 27 in the Salvadoran department of Chalatenango, El Salvador’s National Aqueduct and Sewer Administration said in a statement.
The initiative will be implemented in coordination with the U.S. organization Winrock International and the regional organization Trifinio Plan of the Central American Integration System (SICA) with a $13 million investment for a five-year duration, SICA said in a statement.
“This is a great project because these are important resources for cooperation,” Liseth Hernández, trinational executive secretary of the Trifinio Plan, told Diálogo on November 8. “They are connected with information management, increasing the availability of data and analysis of water quality for decision-making.”
Winrock noted that the initiative will improve the resilience of the Upper Lempa watershed, impacting the well-being and water security of inhabitants in nine municipalities in the three countries, laying the groundwork for the management of essential water resources for millions of people who depend on the Lempa River and its connected transboundary systems.
It is expected that water resources will be managed efficiently and equitably, contributing to reduce water pollution, increase water flows, and reduce conflicts and gender-based violence related to water scarcity, enhancing water security, prosperity, climate resilience, and critical ecosystems essential for biodiversity, SICA said.
“The project will contribute to strengthening the territory’s institutions,” Hernández said. “It will implement transboundary policy management, especially in water management mechanisms, which is important for the three countries. That leads to other water governance matters.”
The project is currently in its first stage. This start-up phase has to do with verifying the geographic area, technical matters, and the participation of institutions, municipalities, as well as the transboundary, national, and local civil society.
“It doesn’t have to do with geographic limits but with a basin approach. The basin approach is not only about water; it encompasses territories, people, cultures; in other words, a multidimensional approach,” Hernández said. “This project is one more ally […] to push this region’s development plans.”
A water security plan will follow, other players and financing mechanisms will be identified, water security measures will then be implemented. Finally, the project will be monitored, evaluated, and adjusted each year, based on its progress.
The Lempa is the longest river in Central America. Its watershed covers an area of 17,926 square kilometers, of which 55.1 percent corresponds to El Salvador, 30.6 percent to Honduras, and 14.3 percent to Guatemala, according to the Trinational Border Community of the Lempa River organization.
The basin has a great variety of ecosystems that represent a large part of Central America’s natural heritage, harboring thousands of species that need a shared commitment to ensure their survival. The basin is in crisis due to its overexploitation, the degradation of its rivers, forests, and wetlands, the Global Water Partnership said in a blog.
To address the risks to water resources in an area of some 260,000 hectares in the basin, the project will promote the restoration of ecosystems and the conservation of biodiversity, Argentine newspaper La Nación reported. In addition, the project will seek to adapt to climate change, reported Spanish water publication El Ágora diario del agua.
In addition to the Upper Lempa Watershed Project, USAID works with the region’s governments, private sector, and local organizations to address regional challenges to economic prosperity, governance, security, and environment and health through its Central America and Mexico Regional Program.
USAID’s regional projects include the Regional Coastal Biodiversity Project ($13.4 million); Trade Facilitation and Border Management Project ($17.5 million); citizen security information management with the InfoSegura Project, ($31 million); Integrated Responses on Migration from Central America ($33.7 million); and Regional Human Rights and Democracy ($39.4 million), USAID indicates.
Additionally, “we are in the feasibility stage for the Water Fund Project, which seeks to have a civic organization for water management on a permanent basis in the tri-national region,” Hernández said. “The GEF [Global Environment Facility, an environmental fund] and the Inter-American Development Bank are cooperating in this project.”