The water issue

According to the World Meteorological Organization, all the countries of the Central American isthmus with the exception of El Salvador are classified as wealthy in terms of water resources. In other words, they use less than 10% of their available water resources (SG-SICA, 2001). The average per capita availability of water in the region is more than 28,000 m3/year, with the maximum value in Belize of around 58,500 m3/year and the minimum in El Salvador of less than 2,800 m3/year (CEPAL, 2003).

Considering the overall abundance of water, it would seem that the Central American region would have no problems in meeting demands for its various water uses, but this is not the reality. Three main factors are responsible for this apparent contradiction: seasonality in supplies, quality and population distribution. In terms of seasonality, rainfall in Central America, like most other regions, is not distributed evenly throughout the year. There are heavy rains and river flows in some months (May to December) and little in others. Further, storage facilities that might mitigate the effects of seasonality are not generally developed.

Even when supplies are high, they are often of low quality with high degrees of turbidity and sedimentation caused by erosion. The main cause of o r\û


Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean

Agriculture, shrimp seller or salt mine l Deciduos latifoliadous shrubby Urban area Coral reef

Evergreen tropical forest (latifoliadous) Mangrove swamp

Forest deciduous and semideciduous Water

Dune and tropical beach with few vegetation




Rocks with few vegetation Savanna

Land and cattle systems Coast tropical vegetation Paramo vegetation River vegetation




Central America

Scale 0 100

Source: Central America Ecosistem's Map World Bank - CCAD.

Made by Mauricio Vega Araya

Fig. 6.1. Location of Central America.

the erosion in Central America is generally believed to be deforestation, which is itself a product of agricultural expansion. Water quality has also been heavily degraded in the areas surrounding many cities.

Adding to the supply problems from both these hydrologic factors is the location of human activity in the region. Interestingly, the population distribution in Central America is inversely related to the total potential availability of water. Almost symmetrically, 30% of the water is found in watersheds flowing towards the Pacific and 70% towards the Atlantic, whereas 30% of the population is located in the Atlantic zone and 70% in the Pacific. Because of higher population, the Pacific region also has the greatest economic activity. This, coupled with the seasonality and quality problems, has led to a water shortage in many areas despite what appears to be high average availability. Scarcity has now become an issue in places such as the peninsula of Azuero in Panama, the north-west of Costa Rica, Nicaragua's central and Pacific region, the entire country of El Salvador, western Honduras, as well as the high plateaus and Pacific coast of Guatemala.

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