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Water management in Cochabamba: 20 years after the “Water War”

20 years have passed since the water wars in Cochabamba. Decision-makers around water management in Bolivia have since been forced to rethink the planning of water to meet the demand of the population and guarantee access that is also affected by climate change.

Through 20 workshops in 25 municipalities of Cochabamba, SEI Researchers worked on the formulation and updating of the Rocha River Basin Master Plan with a climate change adaptation approach.

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Marisa Escobar

In January 2000, communities of Cochabamba, the third-largest city in Bolivia, ran to the streets to demand access and equity in water distribution. The intense protests ended in April of the same year. 20 years later, the challenges continue and decision-makers face scenarios where water management has to meet the demand and face climate change impacts.

Photo: mishmoshimoshi/Flickr

The Rocha River Basin, located in the Department of Cochabamba, is a very important basin in Bolivia: more than 1.4 million people live in its 3 699.9 km2 of extension, which is equivalent to 13% of the country’s population. This basin faces multiple challenges related to the sustainable management of its resources. The increased demand for water, coupled with environmental and water pollution and pressure on ecosystems had led to an imbalance, exacerbated by climate change and population growth.

It has become paramount to prioritize actions that help to solve current problems and enable conditions, contributing to the Basins sustainability and avoiding critical conditions that threaten the life of the communities and ecosystems around it.

To meet the challenges of the Rocha River Basin exists the Master Plan of the Rocha River Basin (PDCR): a guide to planning water in the short, medium, and long term. The document seeks the integration and coordination among stakeholders to restore, improve, and preserve environmental, social conditions, and productivity of the Basin.

The PDCR is a pillar of the water governance model, in a context of resilience to natural disasters and climate change, to ensure food sovereignty, access to water for human consumption, and basic sanitation that contributes to the people’s quality of life.

SEI supported the Pilot Project on Climate Resilience – PPCR in the formulation and updating of the Basin Master Plan, already developed in 2015. Regarding to the previous plan, the plan presented by SEI contributes with the following innovations:

  • An update of the problems of the basin, delving into the identification of the problems through the construction and implementation of databases, analytical tools and participatory processes.
  • An update of the strategic and programmatic framework, in response to the diagnosis and detailed problematization.
  • A more detailed, operational, and financial plan, with indicators and implementation goals, and quantitative results in the medium and long term.

Workshop in Cochabamba with key actors. Photo: SEI

The methodology to create this document with a climate change adaptation approach had these components:

  • Characterization of the Rio Rocha basin.
  • Critical analysis of the state of the basin and formulation of the problem.
  • Proposal of management and investment alternatives, assessed and decided in a participatory manner.
  • Participatory decision making model (PDMM).
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) of the PDCR and Atlas of the basin.
  • Systematization of workshops and agreements.

The participation of the institutions and stakeholders was a key element, a mechanism to promote environmental governance. Those who have benefited or been affected by the decisions of the basin can become aware of the relationship between their frames of reference and those of others. This process helps to understand the differences, to encourage the sharing of ideas, allowing the building of a plan focused on cooperation and well-being.

In a region where there have been wars over water, it is a great challenge to reach agreements between stakeholders to address a sustainable future of water. Water conflicts arise from the absence of mutual understanding of the problems and solutions; The participatory process is the mechanism that allows all the actors to sit at the table and present their vision. The information obtained from this participation added to a better understanding of the basin, through data and tools, encourages a way of planning with better results and future scenarios of the basin and water use.

Marisa Escobar, SEI

Next Steps

At the end of the process it was possible to identify actions to face the current challenges. These actions will be implemented in a time horizon until 2025. The process allowed to reach an implementation plan to achieve the proposed water management goals.

After the Rocha PDC is completed, it will be up to local organizations to generate an institutional platform for its implementation. The plan will become a living instrument that will guide the prioritization of investments for actions in the basin, achieving a sustainable future of water.

David Purkey

Centre Director

SEI Latin America

Héctor Angarita
Héctor Angarita

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI Latin America

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