Strengthening multilevel governance for EbA in the Binational Sumpul River sub-basin (El Salvador-Honduras)

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Published: 18 March 2019
Last edited: 05 July 2019
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Water scarcity and water use rights have led to conflicts in the headwaters of Sumpul River sub-basin (867 km2), shared between Honduras and El Salvador. The climate change context makes the search for integral solutions that generate peace, transboundary development and resilience, crucial.  Promoting a multidimensional (multilevel and multisectoral), participatory and flexible governance model, with an ecosystem approach, for adaptation is therefore an important step. In seeking the sustainable use of water as an adaptation need in Sumpul, existing governance structures were reinforced, boosting their representation, knowledge and management capacity. A common agenda was built based on greater dialogue and trust between stakeholders of the upper sub-basin facilitated by the Binational Community Committee. The agenda included the implementation of agroforestry systems and soil conservation practices to ensure water ecosystem services.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Ecosystem services
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Sustainable livelihoods
Water provision and management
Watershed management
Other theme
Erosion prevention
Peace and human security
Erratic rainfall
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
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


San Ignacio, Chalatenango, El Salvador | La Palma, Chalatenango, El Salvador. Sumpul River, shared between Honduras and El Salvador


  • The sub-basin faces environmental degradation due to deforestation and contamination of soil and water from agriculture.
  • The basin’s binational nature implies collaboration and coordination challenges between Honduras and El Salvador. Only on the Honduran side is there a specific legal framework for the integrated water resources management and watershed governance
  • There are historical conflicts over the use of water, at the community or local level mainly but with binational interest.
  • The main climatic threats are: strong variations in rainfall patterns, extreme temperature fluctuations ("frosts") and strong winds; landslides, floods and recurrent droughts also occur. These all cause damages to infrastructure, food production and local livelihoods, and contribute to aggravate poverty and the migration of people.
  • There is little articulation between water resource management and scarce knowledge of decision makers and local leaders about ecosystem-based adaptation for water security.


  • >100 farmers, and their families with technical support for EbA actions
  • 4 Water Committees with organizational skills
  • Sumpul Binational Community Committee and municipalities of La Palma and San Ignacio (SV) and Sinuapa (HN) involved in training

How do the building blocks interact?

 Governance for adaptation refers to the norms, institutions and processes that determine how power is exercised, responsibilities are distributed and decisions are made to address climate change. This solution advocates a governance for adaptation model that is multidimensional (BB1), participatory (BB2) flexible (BB3) and based on an ecosystem approach.


To strengthen adaptive governance in the upper Sumpul River, community governance structures were supported, in particular the Water Committees and the Binational Community Committee of the upper sub-basin (BB1).


Creating capacities, promoting leadership and establishing consensus within water management structures is the base for sustainable results in the future (BB2). Capacities need to be practical and involve multidimensional approach and deliver short term results. With capacities, organizations are able to develop  management and policy instruments, nourished by scientific studies and local knowledge (BB3).


Impoved local water governance

  • Re-launching and consolidation of the Binational Community Committee of the Sumpul River sub-basin
  • Strengthening of 4 water committees that manage the water supply systems for human consumption.
  • New planning and management instruments developed for the local governance platforms (Binational Committee and 4 Water Committees).
  • Greater articulation among key actors around integrated water resource management in the sub-basin.
  • Active participation of youth and women on Water Committees and other local entities.

Increased local knowledge and capacities

  • Committee members were trained on transboundary cooperation; integrated water resource management; ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA); and policy frameworks and legislation for water and climate change.
  • Greater communication and advocacy skills, after training 38 community leaders in negotiation, policy influencing and communication.
  • Capacities for  EbA implementation improved of >100 farmers 


Plan Trifinio @ Miguel Arévalo / IUCN @ Mauricio Luna

Mr. Teodoro Romero V., ADESCO President and member of the Water Committee and the Binational Committee of the upper Sumpul River basin: "Originally, [Los Alvarados] was a hamlet without water, despite having the Sumpul River as a source, which the community from Honduras had been using for 50 years. After deciding to gather water from this river, we began having problems, conflicts, discussions ... "


Rather than a conflictive element, water must be an integrating element, since it allows communities to communicate and unite with each other, to achieve fair and solidary access. Seeing the threats that climate change represents, agreements can be reached by adopting a communal vision and a dialogical attitude to conflict resolution. In this way, the communities of San Francisco Sumpul (Honduras) and the hamlet of Los Alvarados (El Salvador) went from being confronted to understanding that both are responsible for respecting the right to water and, consequently, the integrity of people and ecosystems.


They have seen that more knowledge achieves better prevention, and that, for climate change adaptation, it is important to integrate other actors into this prevention process. In this sense, the construction of a social fabric that contributes to the process is essential, which is why Plan Trifinio and IUCN involved not only the leaders of both communities but also the Mayor's Office and other organizations, both governmental and non-governmental.


"One of the problems we had at the beginning," confesses Teodoro, "was the distrust or caution that people showed in attending the meetings. Fortunately, this was overcome once the need to participate in the meetings was accepted."


With time, the Los Alvarados ADESCO (Association of Community Development) and its Water Committee were born. "We tried to establish a participatory regulation in order to manage and use water efficiently and effectively".


"One of the first fruits" –he continues- "was to have provision of the vital liquid, since three years ago; an effort that we had ongoing for 12 years. Second, we are strengthening our organization and third, raising awareness in the community in order to set up a fund to maintain the system. Now we live in better conditions, having water and sanitation as core elements of the community development."

Contributed by

MARTACLAUDIA.PEREZ_36296's picture

Marta Pérez de Madrid

Other contributors

Comisión Trinacional del Plan Trifinio