Water, climate risk-proofing: articulation and planning for more resilient territories

The importance of high-impact planning, participation, articulation and joint efforts to secure the water supply in risk situations were the main themes of the Urban Water thematic day in the EUROCLIMA+ pavilion at COP27.

14 November 2022, Sharm-El-Seikh, Egypt. With the central theme "How to adapt and ensure the continuity of water services with flexibility in the face of a changing world", the EUROCLIMA+ Urban Water sector led a series of panels to discuss the importance of ensuring water security and how to incorporate it into territorial planning to address the risks and emergencies caused by climate change.

These events, organised by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), entities implementing projects focused on water resources in Latin America, brought together representatives of authorities from different countries, academia and civil society, among others, around water, a vital resource whose protection and good management is essential for counteracting the effects of climate change. The event was held in two blocks; the first was made up of three sessions with guests from various Latin American countries who shared their vision from the experience in their territories; and the second, in which, in an interesting debate, topics of interest were discussed in relation to the risks that climate change entails when it comes to water.

Water at the centre of the conversation

The first panel, entitled “Strategies for water conservation an climate change mitigation: experiences from territorial planning and community management” was attended by Karina Salinas, Coordinator of the Climate Change Adaptation Management Unit of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition of Ecuador; Nidia Clemencia Riaño, Secretary of Environment of the Government of Cundinamarca and Augusto Pinto, expert in territorial planning of UN-Habitat, Andean countries Hub.

Precisely, according to the latter, the agendas of each country must articulate the rural with the urban, and the regulatory frameworks in each territory are of vital importance, incorporating the local perspective for their implementation. Salinas, for his part, in describing experiences advanced in Ecuador, insisted on carrying out projects with community links, understanding that the processes of articulation with other actors, such as banks, manage to establish a link that allows different environmental initiatives to be launched and scaled up. Finally, from the perspective of Riaño, whose work is carried out in the area of the capital of Colombia, several successful experiences and results were presented, including one in which the public sector provides resources to local communities so that they themselves, based on their needs, can provide solutions to the problems they face, in a "bottom-up" process, which strengthens social capital through the so-called "incentives for conservation".

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In the second meeting, entitled “Integral management of water resources from territorial planning”,  Ligia Castro, Climate Change Advisor of the Ministry of Environment of Panama and Xavier Cobeña, Urban Development Expert of UN-Habitat spoke about the role of local administrations in the planned and coordinated management of water resources to ensure social and economic welfare towards the construction of resilient cities. In the framework of the talk, and as an example of the topic discussed, Castró said that "In Panama, climate change scenarios have just been updated and it is important to explain them to the different sectors, both public and private, so that decisions can be made based on scientific information, and thus achieve adequate planning". If climate change is not taken into account in territorial planning, it is clear that social and economic impacts could be generated. Cobeña concluded by making a fundamental contribution on green and blue infrastructures, stressing that we must improve water and vegetation conditions if we really want to aspire to a development approached in terms of sustainability.

Finally, as part of the roadmap towards water security and climate resilience in the region, it was pointed out that partnerships should pave the way for transforming knowledge into action, and this was precisely the theme of the last panel, organised by UNEP, which again included the contribution of Ligia Castro; Rubén Alemán, president of the national administration of aqueducts and sewers of El Salvador; and Julio Cárcamo, head of the office of social and environmental monitoring of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. During the talk, Alemán emphasised the basic criteria being worked on in El Salvador, specifically in water security and water quality, linked to other processes, such as energy efficiency, and mentioned that it is fundamental to work on climate proofing, based on green infrastructure as nature-based solutions. In conclusion, Mr. Cárcamo emphasised the need to strengthen water security in connection with social issues; he also emphasised that, in the coming years, Central America should triple its investment in water conservation, and that, in this regard, strategic alliances will be of vital importance.

Perspectives for water management in a changing world

The debate ‘Water, climate risk-proof’ included the participation of Maribel Pinto, from the Ministry of Environment of Panama; Nidia Riaño from the Government of Cundinamarca in Colombia; Karina Salinas from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition of Ecuador; Antonio de Lisio from the Articulating Committee of the Climate Action Alliance Venezuela and Rubén Alemán, from the National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers of El Salvador. In this space, moderated by Marjorie Michel of the AFD, experiences and points of view from different territories were shared on the climate risks faced today.

Currently, many countries in the region have faced emergencies due to excessive rainfall, which have generated floods, and which reflect the fundamental importance of planning developed to respond to this type of situation urgently. All these decisions, experts agree, must have a scientific basis to support them, and be adapted to the needs of each area of the continent.

Likewise, the joint work of multiple actors is fundamental in the fight against climate change, according to Maribel Pinto, who highlighted the importance of being able to dialogue in order to find common solutions from civil society organisations, governments and development banks. This view was shared by Karina Salinas, who spoke about successful cases in the fight against climate change in Ecuador, which have been based on inter-institutional articulation and communication with local governments.

In these processes, they agree, it is essential to link and actively involve the communities. As Rubén Alemán stated: "Spaces of co-responsibility must be created. Communities must be involved in the search for solutions and proposals, because they are very willing to contribute and help solve their problems. In the end, they are the ones who know the context and the urgent problems, and they are the ones most affected by climate crises.

Finally, the importance of regional cooperation between countries was highlighted, as Rubén Alemán emphasised: "Central America is small and we should not see ourselves as separate islands; this articulation is good and must be strengthened. We can learn from them and they from us. We share challenges, goals and threats". He also spoke of the importance of implementing solutions "that can be based on nature: mitigation and adaptation actions, but above all, climate-proofing our infrastructure, accompanied by a commitment to green infrastructure," he summarised.

For his part, Antonio de Lisio presented good examples of water governance from neighbourhood committees and civil society, promoting initiatives that local or national governments can replicate in other territories, emphasising the importance of generating connections between different entities, and that successful cases and lessons learned be taken as a basis.

Karina Salas shared Ecuador's experience on the importance of joint articulation with the different entities: "One of the success factors for implementing any climate change adaptation measure is inter-institutional collaboration between the actors involved", while Nidia Riaño highlighted the importance of the national government's articulation with local authorities, allowing for the adaptation of general policies to the realities of each territory.

For example, she mentioned that in Colombia there is a National Policy on Climate Change and that today it is being "regionalised" to have one per department, which allows the realities of each region to be taken into account, in this regard the municipalities themselves are empowering the issue and making it part of the development and territorial plans; at this point it is essential to have multi-sectoral and intergovernmental articulation.

The conclusion: integrated water resources management is about the articulation of sectors, authorities, communities and even countries, to ensure resilient access to water, with proofing against climatic emergencies. 

Ligia Castro, Director of Climate Change, Ministry of Environment of Panama


Nidia Riaño, Secretary of the Environment, Government of Cundinamarca (Colombia)


Marjorie Michel - French Development Agency