Cooperation in the Sixaola River Binational Watershed as Practical Example for Students of the University for Peace (UPEACE)

02 December 2013 | News story

Students of the Water Security and Peace course learn from efforts by IUCN and local stakeholders toward water governance in the Sixaola River Binational Watershed.

October 31st, 2013. Watershed dynamics offer a practical example of the relation between water governance, water security and peace, but the real challenge is to take knowledge found in textbooks and apply it to the differing visions and situations in watersheds, especially when they are transboundary.

The field trip organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as part of a course on Water Security and Peace enabled students to see and learn firsthand about the people, communities and activities involved in water governance processes.

The experience took place in the Costa Rica-Panama binational Sixaola river basin that spans some 2,890 km2 and harbors a wide diversity of flora, fauna and culture providing livelihoods for its inhabitants. An hour-long boat ride upstream brought students to Yorkín, an indigenous Bribri village in Talamanca, on the Costa Rican side. This is a community particularly close to nature, and special as well because the Bribri are one people socio-culturally, but separated by an administrative discontinuity: the border between the two countries.

Hosting the students were members of Stibrawpa, a group of women artisans and community leaders. On the first day they talked about the origin of the organization, their traditions, their relation with natural resources and water and their world view. During the guided visit the following day, they shared experiences in reforestation, forest nurseries and cacao-cloning gardens developed together with IUCN.

Because of the interdependence between inhabitants and natural resources throughout the watershed, multiple stakeholders have generated spaces of coordination for sustainable management. One example is the Sixaola River Binational Watershed Commission, comprised of over 28 organizations with representatives of civil society and indigenous governments.

At lunch, students were also able to dialogue with the Sixaola watershed champions, local leaders committed to water governance who have been closely involved with restructuring of the Sixaola River Binational Watershed Commission. They explained the commission’s importance as coordination body and described how indigenous governments and civil society have voice and vote in the commission through the representatives of producer/business groups and development associations.

The last part of the trip included a stopover in the lower basin where the landscape is dominated by plantain and banana plantations, an area highly vulnerable to flooding. There they were received by Don Carlos, a small producer who is implementing diversification and reforestation on his farm for better adaptation to escalating climate variability in the zone.

This visit to the field gave students a glimpse of the socio-cultural and economic situation in the Sixaola binational river basin and the complexity of local, national and transboundary water governance. It calls for a vision encompassing the entire watershed, and comprehension of the importance of broad and effective participation by civil society in decision-making processes.

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*IUCN currently executes two projects in the Sixaola watershed: Building River Dialogue and Governance (supported by the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and development-SDC) and Water Management for Adaptation (supported by the German Government through ICI-BMU) as part of a crosscutting theme of fostering transboundary cooperation and comprehensive water resource management.