The Case of the Trifinio Plan in the Upper Lempa: Opportunities and Challenges for the Shared Management of Central American Transnational Basins


The upper watershed of the Lempa River is shared by Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, as outlined in the Trifinio Plan. Its management represents a novel experience for Central America. It reveals the advances made in the management of the natural resources of a trans-national watershed, through the political will of the countries at the highest level of authority. This political will has been institutionalized through the adoption of an international treaty, making way for a new form of organizational management. The watershed was, however, considered from a territorial planning perspective, rather than one of water management. At the same time, the Trifinio experience also makes evident the limits to processes that are stimulated from above and therefore not accompanied by strategies designed by the local actors. It is indeed the support of local actors that can ensure the backing necessary for guaranteeing the functioning and sustainability of long-term actions.

Lessons Learned

  1. The case reveals that in order to advance towards the integrated management of the hydrological resources of trans-national watersheds in Central America, what is very much needed is the political will (at the uppermost levels) of the participating countries.
  2. The need to establish common institutional frameworks for managing the territory of the shared watershed.
  3. The need for coordinated mechanisms for information gathering, conceptualization, and interventions.
  4. The need for efficient mechanisms for ensuring local participation throughout the process – from planning to decision making and carrying out actions.
  5. To invest in processes of building up local capacities associated with the management of natural resources.
  6. Reflected in this case are a series of limitations related to the lack of efficiency and sustainability of actions that are planned from the top down, as well as a centralized approach to management in which resources have been exhausted in carrying out actions by the ministries involved.
  7. Interventions with traditionally predominant protectionists do not allow for advancement towards a natural resources management in the way that they could if they stemmed from an integrated management of watersheds.
  8. The limitations of merely incorporating risk and vulnerability management, as associated with land use and flooding, into the management of a shared watershed.
  9. The Trifinio Commission is not financially viable and has not achieved the establishment of its own coordinating inter-sectoral planning mechanism among local institutions, municipalities, environmental funds, and the private sector.

Relevance of the Case for the Integrated Management of Hydrological Resources
This case reflects the importance of political will for advancing the building of frameworks for institutional trans-national watersheds. At the same time, it also reveals the obstacles in the transition from those processes that are stimulated by a top-down approach towards a process involving strategies arising from the local actors. Strategies by local actors inherently lend the necessary support to the functioning and sustainability of actions, and in the long run tend towards the integrated management of trans-national watershed hydrological resources. Finally, the case reveals the predominant focus to be on natural resource management for watersheds on behalf of the principal actors of participating institutions within the region, rather than integrated management of water.

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