Communities reduce disaster risks by investing in nature

23 August 2010 | News story

"Hurricane Stan in 2005 was the catalyst for action. We knew what needed to be done, we just did not realize the risks of inaction", said Gerardo Barrios De León, Head of the Tojgüech River Microwatershed Council.

Gerardo was talking about the devastation and rebuilding efforts required after Hurricane Stan hit the Tacana region in Guatemala in 2005. “We had all seen the environmental degradation through growing population and lack of planning and awareness” continues Gerardo, “but Stan made us realize we had to do something. To keep the Tacana region a beautiful place to live and sustain the livelihoods of the thousands of people who live there”.

The Tojgüech Microwatershed Council has done just that through a series of innovative projects. Infrastructure was the driver after Hurricane Stan. Roads were needed, electricity and water supplies. To develop further the communities had to identify and understand the risks they faced living in the remote and steep sided valleys between up to 3,600m above sea level. “We realized we had to re-plant steep areas where the trees had gone, and manage our land better to reduce run-off and make slopes more stable. We developed the Microwatershed Management Plan to help us with future planning and to use this plan as a tool – to demonstrate that we know what the problems are and how to solve them, but we needed more funding and support to help us” said Gerardo Barrios.

The Tojgüech Microwatershed Council, which consists of members from 10 communities, is looking at linking with other neighboring Microwatershed Councils to share lessons, funding and develop joint projects, especially on solid waste management.

Some of the most innovative approaches include composting to develop organic fertilizer for growing vegetables and setting up hydroponic nurseries. At 2,700m above sea level the Tojgüech Microwatershed Council has helped set up an edible mushroom farm. The farm sells mushrooms to the communities in the area, and produces surplus for the local market in the city, bringing in much needed revenue. “The more we can sustainably grow local produce, limit the negative impacts we have on our environment, and better understand and reduce risks , this helps us become more resilient to climate forces. Without preserving this region, we have no home” said Gerardo Barrios.

For more information contact rocio.cordoba@iucn.org