Results of the field investigation suggest that
much of the basin—perhaps because of its history of hurricanes,
drought and flooding—does relatively well during emergencies created
by extreme events of climate variability. Exceptions occur, of course,
but because of this history, coping strategies at the household
and community levels are in place to the degree that all but the
most extreme events are handled well.
Exceptions to this occur in the poorer communities,
but this is especially so in communities of the rural poor where
not only do events like flooding and drought create problems because
their water sources are more precarious and less protected, but
also because they lack the transportation and health infrastructure
that tend to make disasters less extreme. For the rural poor, coping
includes two major strategies almost exclusively: migration, and
receiving assistance from others.
In most cases, alleviation of poverty will
lessen the impact of extreme climate events on human populations,
particularly where water quality and supply are concerned. Integrated
participatory planning tends to be more successful in doing this as
well as being less expensive and less conflictive. Disaster mitigation
planning is an integral part of development planning and cannot be
dealt with in isolation.
More specifically for the purposes of IS/DWC, the
field investigation can make suggestions from that part of the SJRB
that is most populated and, in many ways, most at risk. It is the
more arid regions (Zone I and the southern portion of Zone II) where
“best practices” at the household and community level are most evident:
- The use of storage tanks, cisterns and water
harvesting is common.
- Chlorination of these is extensively used—staff
at health centers is trained and the necessary chemicals are available.
- Wells can be drilled far deeper than those
dug by hand. Consequently, the water source is more reliable and
less likely to be contaminated.
- Drilled wells are sealed rather than open,
and the wellhead is raised above normal flood levels making contamination
- Wells are sited to avoid sources of contamination
such as latrines and corrals.
- Ranchers have access to properties in the mountains
with more forage and water where they move livestock during intense
- Farmers use drought resistant and/or flood
resistant varieties, and adjust planting cycles according to meteorological
- The relationships between forest management
and the volume and quality of the water source are becoming more
evident. As a result, more and more households and communities
are undertaking reforestation and forest protection measures to
protect their water sources.
- Likewise, the relationships between clean water
and health are better understood. Consequently, schools and community
service organizations are “adopting” sections of streams and rivers
and work to conserve the riparian vegetation, keeping them clean
of trash, garbage, etc.
- Communities have realized the value of efforts
to attend to their own needs. With varying degrees of success,
they have formed community and municipal water commissions to
deal with the problems of water quality and quantity.
- Industry, be it slaughter houses, dairy and
citrus processing plants or tourist hotels, have their own drilled
wells and storage tanks that will take them through most droughts.
- Much of the population in the SJRB is concentrated
in semi-urbanized groupings,5 where government institutions
are charged with providing them with potable water.
- These institutions distribute potable water
by tank truck if a drought is severe enough to create supply problems
thereby lessening the chance that parts of the community will
use contaminated low flowing rivers and streams and ponded water
as a potable water source.
- These institutions can and do ration water
during extreme drought.
- These institutions have the budget and personnel
to protect its water sources in terms of site maintenance, reforestation
and forest conservation.
- An organized institution providing health services
is better able to handle the chores of water monitoring, chlorination,
fumigation and other extension services required in emergencies;
- These institutions also have local and communal
emergency commissions that help to prevent and react to emergencies.
Many official institutions active in the SJRB
become involved in the emergencies brought on by drought, flooding,
or hurricanes. In addition to the two ministries of environment
(MINAE and MARENA), the water supply companies (AA in Costa Rica
and ENACAL in Nicaragua) and the health organizations (SILAIS in
Nicaragua and EBAIS in Costa Rica) all fulfill important roles in
preventing and mitigating emergencies created by climate variability.
Until fairly recently, however, few of the activities of these and
other public and private institutions could be as proactive as possible
or as organized and coordinated during an emergency as needed. Things
changed for the better after the tragedies created by the El Niño
episode of 1997-98 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
For example, the National Emergency Commission
(CNE) of Costa Rica is the basic mechanism for dealing with emergencies
in that country. Its board of directors includes representatives
from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the Ministry of
Health, MINAE, and the Ministry of Transport and Public Works. Before
the 1997-1998 El Niño, however, it was legally confined only to
react to an emergency, rather than to prepare for an emergency even
if it were known that one was eminent. After the 1997-98 El Niño,
CNE can be proactive and, to a large extent, it does so through
the creation of regional, and local emergency commissions that are
mandated to undertake activities to prevent, mitigate, prepare,
and respond to disasters.
Likewise, INETER, the national institute of territorial
studies for Nicaragua, is a meteorological institute that watches
for, and evaluates possible emergencies caused by climate variability.
INETER works with DCN, the National Directorate of Civil Defense,
to prevent and mitigate such disasters. Nicaragua has a National
System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Relief.
Of relevance here is that each of the local emergency
commissions or committees would:
- Actively participate in the activities of the
national and regional commissions.
- Elaborate an emergency plan consistent with
a response to the dangers extant in the zone covered by the local
- Activate the plan during an event that would
require coordinated work.
- Control and monitor all local operations and
request the support of CNE if the situation became more than could
be handled at the local level.
- Support the work needed to evaluate damages.
- Coordinate specialized work groups made up
of representatives of public and private agencies and institutions
active in the zone.
- Organize work groups in the following suggested
areas of need:
- Temporary shelter
- Training and education
- Evacuation and rescue
- Supplies and Transportation
- Technical Support
- Volunteer Support
- Support organization of community emergency
commissions that would do the following:
- Cooperate in mapping the community
- Identify and map existing threats to the
- Promote community activities to reduce threats
- Be able to offer first aid
- Identify, map and advertise evacuation routes
- Participate in vigilance and monitoring
- Support rescue efforts
- Locate, map, and “harden” wells, other sources of potable
water, and distribution systems
- Locate and warehouse emergency supplies
- Help design, fund and maintain alert systems
- Make collaborative arrangements with neighboring (including
cross-border) committees and governmental and non-governmental
- Train an emergency cadre of local volunteers
- Help design, fund and implement a program of community protection
(hurricane straps, shelters, storage tanks, protection dikes,
- Organize mandatory and voluntary community work programs
to protect water sources and distribution systems to include
reforestation, fencing, cleaning and maintenance.
5 - These centers are to the west and southwest of
Lake Nicaragua in Zone I and south of the San Juan River in Zone