Submitted by guest blogger on Fri, 08/31/2012

By Claire Warmenbol of IUCN's Water Programme in Stockholm for World Water Week.

Luis Manuel Maier works for IUCN Member 'Fundacion Vida' in Honduras and is coordinating the IUCN BRIDGE project on the Goascaran, a river forming the border between Honduras and El Salvador.
Much is being said about water governance and collaboration at the Stockholm World Water Week this year, particularly in view of next year's UN International Year on Water Cooperation. But putting it all into practice and making things happen in the field, is what Maier is all about.

BRIDGE stands for Building River Dialogue and Governance; or Maier’s ambition and goal for the Goascaran. Over the past few decades, the Goascaran basin had suffered the consequences of a dysfunctional management system with many willing actors involved, yet unable or lacking the funds to tie their work together with all stakeholders, for the health of the river basin and well-being of people and livelihoods.

This is where the project’s main goal lies and needless to say, Mr Maier is a busy man these days.

Maier started his career in architecture at the University of Los Andes in Colombia, which landed him his first job in Urban Planning at the Ministry of Honduras. He soon realised there was an element missing in his degree — regional planning. A city cannot thrive without a strong resilient surrounding region. This second degree led him to become a Professor in Regional Planning at the University of Honduras and Nicaragua.
Seeing the environmental issues rise in his country, he felt the need to learn even more and embarked on an Environmental Management course at the University of Nicaragua. Whilst doing consultancies in Land Use Planning and risk management, he certainly fulfilled his mantra to “always keep learning”. Risk and Environmental Planning became his area of expertise and he was keen to put his new knowledge to the test at the Honduras Directorate of Land Use Planning.

However, wanting to apply theory to practice, Maier was drawn to the vacancy of Fundacion Vida’s BRIDGE coordinator position in the Goascaran Basin. He landed the job and since one year has been working with both a 'Fundacion Vida' and IUCN hat on, brokering new partnerships for the Goascaran Binational Management Group, conducting stakeholder evaluations and updating the strategic management plan for the basin.

“Previously, everyone was acting in their own ways, in silent silos. This doesn’t work”, Maier says. “The problem was a lack of governance and cooperation, as well as financial independence. BRIDGE is about bringing dialogue and working together with all stakeholders, based on the four capital tiers: people, economy, environment, and institutions.”

Now workshops are being organised, involving and inviting people from all sectors. “The history of armed conflict in 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras is still present in people’s minds and to an extent interferes with collaborative efforts within Ministries and transboundary institutions. BRIDGE tries to overcome these historical differences in 'building bridges' and extending hands to work together for the better good of the basin and people on both sides of the border.”

Another important element of the project is self-sustainability, not to be reliant on short-term foreign donations but to be self-sufficient. “This is why we conduct learning sessions, workshops on capacity building, and involve new stakeholders, including from business.”

For example, just a few months ago, Jessy Baralaga from the Local Development Agency ‘Valle’ (Honduras) is one of the new stakeholders on board the Goascaran Binational Management Group. “This company brings with it the voice and opinions of several micro-finance and environmental agencies working in the basin, adding another set of values and interests, and importantly adding an economic and self-sustained dynamic to the group”, says Maier.

With a robust governance platform under construction, the basin stakeholders are now engaged in a more strategic planning process. This process will deliver the actions of the basin management plan, and in the longer term, improve the development and health of the basin by following the principles of a binational 'Good Practices Chart'.

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