Water is essential for all human life and the ecosystems that support us. Water is a fundamental human right – socially, economically and culturally important. Communities in the Andes are facing three major water challenges as they fight to reduce poverty:
• Widespread land degradation, water pollution and climate change are reducing the availability, quality and reliability of water resources;
• Weak institutions for regulating and managing water are resulting in poor water usage; and
• Inequitable distribution of water resource benefits and responsibilities.
Frequently, those who benefit most from water resources are not the same people who care for the watersheds providing the benefits. Conversely, those who degrade watersheds are not the same as those who suffer the consequences. The impact of such inequality should not be underestimated; it promotes poverty and is a major cause of environmental degradation and social conflict. The Andean region is blessed with great social and environmental diversity, and as a result there is not fixed rule for who will and will not benefit from water resources within a watershed. A common scenario in the Andean region sees the benefits of a healthy watershed being received by the (relatively wealthy) downstream users – farmers, successful agribusinesses, hydropower companies and urban water users, while the (relatively poor) upstream rural communities are faced with the burden of caring for the catchment areas, with little prospect of benefiting from their conservation efforts.
CPWF-Andes has been working with communities in 10 small Andean basins in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to design and implement Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms (BSM) that seek to redistribute the benefits of a healthy watershed equitably to everyone in the watershed. What is a Benefit-Sharing Mechanism? Typically they are a series of agreements between all watershed stakeholders, focused on two areas:
• Agreements about water and land resources usage aimed at ensuring the environment is protected and resources are used in a sustainable way, including accounting for climate change.
• Agreements for financial and other benefits such as access to education and health to be shared from downstream water beneficiaries to those caring for the environmental health of the basin upstream, in recognition of the services they provide.
For a more thorough introduction into Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms, watch CPWF-Andes’ new introductory animation.
Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms are an extremely flexible model able to adapt to a wide variety of social and hydrological situations. Consequently, there is no fixed “recipe” for a Benefit-Sharing Mechanism. To be successful, a Benefit-Sharing Mechanism needs to be designed in partnership with the local communities in order to not only meet their needs, but also to draw upon their knowledge of local social and hydrological factors. Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms can flourish without supporting regulatory frameworks, however thoughtfully designed regulations can greatly assist the design and implementation of a Benefit-Sharing Mechanism.
To many people benefit-sharing mechanisms sound like just another name for Payment for Ecosystem Services, or PES. However market-driven PES are actually just one type of Benefit-Sharing Mechanism. In many circumstances a market driven PES approach is simply not able deliver a fair or environmentally sustainable solution. In fact today, the majority of successful BSMs in the Andes are not market driven PES solutions, rather they are BSMs that have been created through consultative process and driven by communities themselves.
A real world example of a BSM improving lives is the Coello Basin in Ibague, Colombia. “Citizen Action Conversations” were created as a space to negotiate and create agreements. Before these conversations were held, the BSM project worked extensively with communities to share knowledge about the basins water resources along with providing advocacy about water rights. This resulted in all participants having a better understanding of the issues faced by others and disadvantaged communities being better able to negotiate for a fairer agreement.
Learn more by visiting http://mcb.condesan.org.