Floods and droughts
The Tacaná basin straddles the border between Mexico and Guatemala with the Tacaná Volcano towering in the middle. The region contains the major coffee-producing areas of both countries and is renowned for the production of biological coffee. The basin comprises the basins of the Suchiate, Coatán Cahoacán and Cosalapa Rivers in Mexico, and the Suchiate catchment in Guatemalan territory. It is a poor area, especially on the Guatemalan side. There, 53% of the people subsist on less than US$ 2 per day.

Marginalised farmers see themselves forced to move uphill and clear forests to make way for small farms. The resulting erosion is strongly increasing the risk of floods and mudslides. In the middle of the catchment, sugar cane and coffee industry pollute the water, and larger-scale farming degrades available lands. Downstream, water scarcity in the dry season poses insurmountable problems to the riparian communities and industries. Water is primarily used for domestic purposes and small-scale irrigation in Guatemala, while in Mexico, 54% of surface water is used for irrigation, 26% for human consumption and 10% for agribusiness activities.

Protecting natural beauty
The Coatán River flows into a Ramsar site in Mexico (La Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve).The course of the Suchiate River serves as the boundary between the two countries, and its waters drain into a wetland area protected by the state of Chiapas (Gancho-Murill). The Naranjo river flows into a Guatemalan Ramsar site (Manchón-Guamuchal). Their total biodiversity is representative of one of the most important "hot spots" on earth with a considerable number of species increasingly threatened with extinction.

Working together across frontiers
But the growing problems have also increased the awareness of the basin's inhabitants. They have realized the need for action and to better plan the development of their basin. More importantly, this awareness is shared by the Governments involved, and they too have agreed to work together on an integrated plan for management and development of the basin's water resources.

The problems to tackle are not only deforestation or pollution. The problems are as much an expression of such practices as they are of dispersed authority, sectoral approaches, inadequate laws and regulations, budgetary constraints, the absence of integrated policies, and the lack of participation and transparency. Therefore, all stakeholders have agreed to work towards an integrated management plan for the basin. Working together, they certainly stand a better chance to overcome poverty, environmental degradation and social inequity.

The Tacaná project
The overall goal of the project is to "optimize the benefits provided by freshwater, soils and ecosystems associated with populations in the project's area of influence as their intrinsic values are conserved and restored."

More specifically, the project will work to:

  1. consolidate mechanisms for coordination and management of water resources under a comprehensive approach
  2. gather information for comprehensive catchment management plans
  3. implement a strategy for raising awareness and information sharing
  4. build strategic alliances for the implementation of management plans in the short, medium and long term
  5. initiate pilot activities to implement priorities of the management plans.


Partners

Towns and town council in Mexico and Guatemala, Government of Mexico, Government of Guatemala, IUCN, Tapachula Water, COAPATAP, TUXTLA Chico Town Council, UNESCO, Fondacion Gonzalo Rio Arronte (FGRA)

Duration and cost
4 years at US$ 18 million