18, July, 2012

Key Advances in Water Management and Climate Change Adaptation in Latin America’s Mountains

Water Basin Councils and citizen participation mechanisms, terracing and ‘water raising’, innovative tools for researching vulnerability: these are just a few of the strategies Latin American countries are using to strengthen adaptation to changing water availability in their mountain regions.

Within mountain ecosystems across Latin America, Africa and Asia, increasing climate variability, gradual glacial melting and more frequent and intense extreme weather events are negatively affecting the ability of water cycles to self-regulate. This is leading to increased water scarcity which is already affecting one in three people worldwide.  This Brief begins by describing the main challenges to providing sustainable and equitable access to water in the face of climate change impacts. It then highlights four key strategies being implemented in Latin America that are improving sustainable water management policy and practice while also facilitating climate change adaptation. Examples from across the region and contextual factors that have underpinned improvements in water management and adaptation provide key lessons to be considered by other countries and regions. 

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Key Lessons:

  • In Latin America, establishing water legislation and new public institutions responsible for administering water resources have provided an adequate basis for implementing new institutional mechanisms to better face the challenges of climate change adaptation during this century.
  • It is vital that scientific research into conservation and sustainable water use at the sources of water basins in high mountain zones be included in climate change adaptation planning processes. Latin America shows how this research can provide important information on local water capture and storage technologies that have enabled communities to carry out productive activities over centuries.
  • Given that climate change impacts in mountain ecosystems are so local in nature, adaptation strategies for sustainable water resource management must be developed through participatory processes and incorporate local knowledge and practices. Vulnerable and marginalized populations must be adequately represented in order to avoid contributing to social exclusion and increasing poverty levels. In Latin America, Water Basin Councils have shown to be a successful mechanism for securing civil society participation in planning, implementation and monitoring processes.
  • (Español) Dado que los impactos del cambio climático en los ecosistemas de montaña son de carácter local, las estrategias de adaptación para la gestión sostenible del agua deben desarrollarse a través de procesos participativos que incorporen el conocimiento y prácticas locales. Asimismo, se debe garantizar que las poblaciones vulnerables y marginales estén adecuadamente representadas a fin de no contribuir a la exclusión social y la pobreza. Los Consejos de Cuencas en América Latina han demostrado ser un mecanismo exitoso para garantizar la participación de la sociedad civil en la planificación, implementación y monitoreo de los procesos.

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