Governance for adaptation in the shared basin of the Goascorán River

Published: 09 March 2021
Last edited: 17 March 2021
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The lack of a border development agreement and the great diversity of actors are part of the governance challenges of the Goascorán River basin (2,345 km2), shared between Honduras and El Salvador. In order to adapt here to climate change, a governance model that is multidimensional (multilevel and multisectoral), participatory, flexible and ecosystemic is needed, one that integrates all basin stakeholders, periodically evaluates the adaptation strategies and measures implemented, and manages priority ecosystem services. In this solution, transboundary coordination was facilitated by establishing Environmental Technical Tables (El Salv.) and promoting their rapprochement to the Goascorán River Basin Council (Hond.). At a more local level, the Lituy River (Hond.) and Honduritas River (El Salv.) Micro-basin Councils were formed, creating capacities through a "learning by doing" approach. These experiences allowed adaptation actions to be up-scaled and strengthened the basin’s governance.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Ecosystem services
Food security
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Sustainable livelihoods
Watershed management
Other theme
Connectivity/ transboundary conservation
Erosion prevention
Forest Management
Indigenous People
Water provision and management
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Goascorán, Valle, Honduras | La Unión Department, El Salvador


  • The basin’s binational nature implies collaboration and coordination challenges between Honduras and El Salvador, especially in the absence of a border development agreement that supports binational management.
  • Only Honduras has a legal framework and a governance platform for the basin, although some structures have yet to be consolidated.
  • There is little knowledge among decision makers about the multiple benefits of ecosystems for adaptation, which is reflected in municipal and national plans.
  • There are degraded forests in water recharge zones and agricultural activities without soil conservation practices, which increase erosion and the tendency for migratory agriculture.
  • There are climatic threats such as changes in rainfall patterns and rising average temperatures, which increase the risks of water scarcity and crops losses due to drought. Other threats include the poor solid waste management, contamination of water sources, and emigration.


  • Direct: >500 families from 10 communities of the Lituy (Honduras) and Honduritas (El Salvador) micro-basins
  • Indirect: >5000 families from the Municipalities of Aguanqueterique (Honduras), Nueva Esparta and Poloros (El Salvador)

How do the building blocks interact?

Governance for adaptation refers to the legal and policy frameworks, institutions, processes and mechanisms that allow power to be exercised, responsibilities to be distributed and decisions to be made, in order to respond to climate change. This solution is based on a governance model for adaptation that is multidimensional (BB1), participatory (BB2), flexible (BB3) and ecosystemic (BB4).


Adaptive governance in a transboundary context requires municipal and community management capacities (BB1 and 2) to be strengthened on both sides of the border, favouring local empowerment and inter-municipal and binational alliances. In this solution, multi-dimensional and participatory governance mechanisms were forged, incorporating more actors, creating new structures and adopting agreements and management instruments at various levels: micro-watershed, municipal, national and transboundary. In order to be flexible, these agreements and instruments must be subject to periodic reviews (BB3) in light of the results obtained and climatic variability. Additionally, results were achieved in the field following the implementation of EbA measures, which helped to consolidate adaptive governance using a basin ecosystem approach (BB4).


  • Creation and strengthening of the of the Lituy River (Honduras) and Honduritas River (El Salvador) Micro-basin Committees, with participatory processes for the definition of the internal regulations of these local governance structures.
  • Adoption of the Action Plan of the Lituy River Micro-basin Committee.
  • Implementation of ecosystem-based adaptation measures (EbA) with 10 communities in El Salvador and Honduras: 1) restoration of water sources, 2) soil conservation, and 3) agroforestry systems.
  • Greater advocacy and management capacities of municipalities and their commonwealths, as well as knowledge concerning the advantages of EbA.
  • Agreements between municipality commonwealths on both sides of the border, for improved ecosystem management.
  • Greater water security for >5,000 families of the Lituy and Honduritas Micro-watersheds through the restoration of water springs.
  • Incorporation of the EbA approach into: 7 Municipal Development Plans (Honduras) and the management capacities of 6 Municipal Environmental Units (El Salvador); the National Adaptation Plan of Honduras, which identifies EbA as a strategic axis and adaptive governance as a transversal axis; and in agreements between municipality commonwealths. This accounts for multidimensional scaling (vertical and horizontal) beginning with grassroots actors.


IUCN @ Rovell Guillén

An important governance achievement of the AVE Project (Adaptation, Vulnerability and Ecosystems) was the conformation of the Lituy River Micro-basin Committee (Honduras) to meet the governance needs of this small micro-basin that is part of the Apane River micro-basin. Mr. Motzer Onan Acosta of the Conchas de Munuaque community and Deputy Secretary of the Micro-basin Committee, recounts his experience:


"Regarding the actions of the AVE Project in the Lituy River micro-watershed, I believe it was an opportunity for strengthening capacities in new topics that are essential for life as human beings. I am the youngest of the five members of the “Peasant Transcendence Group” and currently part of the Board of Directors of the Microbasin Committee. I have learned that ecosystems provide natural solutions to climate change, a clear example is the protection of the forest that somehow regulates temperature, provides oxygen which is life, and protects water springs in a natural way, which will provide us with more water quantity and quality. I also understand that the AVE project in the micro-basin was a learning process where success was seen reflected in the direct initiatives of families and the community in the execution of activities. As a member of the Microbasin Committee, I am aware that we must adhere to a work plan to take care of the natural resources present within the micro-watershed, with which we can have an impact at the municipal level, proposing joint actions for good governance."


The work with communities was a catalyst for actions at other levels. Thanks to local motivation and empowerment, both political advocacy goals (e.g. with municipalities) and escalation of the EbA approach were achieved. Likewise, a high level of participation was attained thanks to the mobilization power of certain leaders and community spokespersons. Mr. Rovell Guillén of Fundación Vida, AVE Project, comments:


"There are key players such as teachers in schools, who are figures who mobilize children and young people and facilitate meetings. Women have also played a highly active role, they get very involved and are listened to. This is evident in the reforestation campaigns where in the first activities, there were about 150 people. Also people from the lower part of the basin participated, who are supplied with water by the upstream areas being restored."

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MARTACLAUDIA.PEREZ_36296's picture

Marta Pérez de Madrid

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