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Cooperation in action

Guatemala: Adaptation to climate change through sustainable water management

Training of technicians in the sampling of waste water in Guatemala

Access to enough water of a decent quality is a human right. The availability of drinking water has a direct influence on poverty, malnutrition and child mortality. There is in fact enough water in Guatemala. The country gets on average four times as much rain as Germany.

However, whilst in Germany the rain is distributed fairly equally across the year, the people in the arid zone of Guatemala must try to get by with little or no rainfall from November to the beginning of May. That is when the first rain starts to fall on the parched earth. Due to the impacts of climate change, it is likely that periods of drought and heavy rainfall will increase over the next few decades.

The rain is very heavy and the ground is unable to absorb such quantities of water: the forests that catch and hold the rain so that it can gradually seep into the ground have been decimated by decades of deforestation. The result is that the rainwater stays on the surface and the groundwater reservoirs are not replenished. In addition, demand for water is growing because the population is growing and, in the agricultural sector, ever-increasing amounts of water are needed for the production of food for domestic consumption, and products like coffee and vegetables for export.

More people, less rain, less water for drinking and for agricultural development – this all means that more economical and more efficient use of this important resource is required. There needs to be a holistic approach to managing water catchment areas. German development experts, working with eight Guatemalan communities, have drawn up integrated land use plans with the aim of setting up water conservation areas and replanting areas of land that have been deforested.

Experts from the Technical University of Dresden have helped the local people set up simple percolation systems, so that the ground is better able to absorb the rainwater. This means that the natural groundwater reservoirs can be replenished and are available to be used when there is a drought. In addition, systems have been set up to collect rainwater. Filter systems ensure that this water is also suitable for drinking.

The German development cooperation experts have worked with three pilot communities to draw up water supply and disposal plans. These plans will help the communities meet the various requirements in the water sector – from disinfecting drinking water to treating wastewater. Local technicians are receiving further training specifically for the tasks that need to be carried out.

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