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Water for Peace: A Journey towards Sustainable Water Management in Northern Honduras

The UN declared this year’s World Water Day (March 22, 2024) theme ‘water for peace,’ highlighting that “when we cooperate on water, we create a positive ripple effect – fostering harmony, generating prosperity, and building resilience to shared challenges.” Against this backdrop, the spotlight falls on initiatives like the Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park (AJAASSPIB) in Northern Honduras, where collaborative efforts are reshaping local landscapes and livelihoods through sustainable water management.


We want to highlight a particular milestone in the over twenty years of watershed conservation and community organizing in Northern Honduras. The milestone comes from the Municipality of Olanchito, where citizens recently voted to increase the Environmental Fund fees they invest in watershed conservation.


AJAASSPIB's Path to Sustainable Watershed Management

Since its establishment in 2003, AJAASSPIB has received international recognition for its resounding success in community-based conservation efforts. Partnering with EcoLogic and other stakeholders, AJAASSPIB empowers rural communities to manage and conserve their watersheds while ensuring safe water access.

Through volunteer-run water councils and reforestation initiatives, they created a holistic conservation model that addresses both infrastructure needs and environmental sustainability.

Through volunteer-run water councils and reforestation initiatives, they created a holistic conservation model that addresses both infrastructure needs and environmental sustainability. Spreading awareness and sparking dialogue has been crucial to AJAASSPIB’s success as they seek to build trust and confidence in their model from various stakeholders, including cattle ranchers, farmers, local community members, and environmentalists. 


Collaboration through MACO

In 2011, the Municipality of Olanchito sought to replicate AJAASSPIB's success on a larger scale. Collaborating with community leaders, they devised a plan to engage residents in supporting watershed restoration efforts. Despite initial challenges, they sought methods to establish effective incentive mechanisms to gain community support for this solution, which would require an additional fee of 5 Lempiras to their monthly water bill to establish an Environmental Fund. The additional payment would fund conservation efforts towards restoring the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed – where the Aguan River drains and then provides water for Olanchito’s ~40,000 residents. 


Olanchito residents were eager to pay for these services, as they had already been paying extra for bottled water due to the lack of a reliable water supply. With citizen support, AJASSPIB, EcoLogic, and the Municipality of Olanchito signed the Agreement on Joint Environmental Management of the Municipality of Olanchito (MACO) in March 2011 to coordinate the conservation of the 6,500 ha of the subwatershed. MACO’s water management is governed by a Coordination Unit that includes AJAASSPIB’s Executive Director, Olanchito’s Municipal Environmental Unit coordinators, and EcoLogic’s Honduran Program Officer, Carlos Euraque


Since 2011, these collaborative efforts have produced awareness campaigns around the crucial relationship between watershed health and access to safe and sustainable water supply while also supporting various efforts to survey, restore, and protect the previously mismanaged Uchapa-Pimienta Watershed. 


Signs of Progress – The Decision to Pay More

These efforts have never been more crucial to an increasingly vulnerable Honduras. Accelerating threats of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns have led to soaring temperatures and mass droughts. Wildfires have become increasingly rampant with the persistence of unsustainable and destructive hunting practices, where 2023 saw 2,215 ha of forest loss to fire.


With the MACO agreement, EcoLogic and AJAASSPIB have supported the Municipality in responding to these threats by investing time and resources in awareness campaigns, proper surveillance and preventative technology, and restoration efforts for damaged areas. Such efforts wouldn’t be possible without the voluntary payments of Olanchito’s community members – and the community has demonstrated a profound 

recognition of the importance of holistic conservation and watershed management. 


Through decades of dialogue, compromise, and awareness-raising, these efforts have not only restored watersheds but also empowered communities to shape their own future.

In adopting this payment for ecosystem services model, and voluntarily establishing the Environmental Fund, residents of Olanchito have gained increased influence and ability to advocate for their water services. Through their participation in cabildos abiertos  – public dialogues facilitated by the Municipality – citizens have actively shaped policies and supported their water services. 



In a testament to their dedication, on August 27, 2023, residents voted to increase their Environmental Fund fees by 900%, from 5 to 50 Lempiras, demonstrating their understanding of the importance of investing in ecosystem services for a sustainable future.


Community members present at the gathering remarked, “The unanimous approval of the Environmental Fund fee by the assembled population resonates as a resounding call for reverence towards our community's sole water source and the protective forests that safeguard our existence. It stands as an unequivocal demand for the preservation of our vital natural resources.”


The increase in the Environmental Fund fees reflects a tangible shift in community attitudes towards water conservation. Over the past year, the number of households participating in conservation efforts has doubled, leading to a significant increase in restoration efforts within the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed. These outcomes underscore the transformative impact of community engagement in promoting environmental stewardship.


Juan José Ramos, President of the Olanchito Municipal Development Council, expressed, “The Environmental Fund fee, enthusiastically approved by our community, stands as a testament to our collective commitment to environmental stewardship. It reflects our deep respect for nature and signifies a strong partnership between our people and the revitalization efforts for the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed.”


A Model for the Future

The success of the MACO agreement between EcoLogic, AJAASSPIB, and the Municipality of Olanchito exemplifies the power of grassroots initiatives in addressing complex environmental challenges. Through decades of dialogue, compromise, and awareness-raising, these efforts have not only restored watersheds but also empowered communities to shape their own future. We draw inspiration from their journey and redouble our efforts to ensure water security and peace for all.

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