A Step Towards Sustainable Wastewater Management in Guatemala

  • 2018•09•07

    When it comes natural resources management, stakeholders may face conflicting interests if they are using the same limited resources for different purposes. Understanding the different perspectives of the actors involved is crucial for finding a solution that not only addresses the economic, technical, and environmental aspects of the problem, but that is also socially accepted.

    Against this background, the UNU Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES) has joined with local project partners Fideicomiso Ambiental de los Valles de Hidalgo (Mexico) and Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC) to develop an integrated approach to identify sustainable solution options for wastewater management in a participatory manner.

    As part of the SludgeTec project, whose research and capacity building initiatives are focused on the sustainability of wastewater management in the Americas, UNU-FLORES and USAC co-organised an assessment workshop at a study site in Panajachel, Guatemala, earlier this year. The site — home to Lake Atitlán —lies at the bottom of a closed basin, which means that all wastewater produced within the lake’s catchment area eventually reaches the lake. In general, wastewater treatment in Guatemala is limited, and at Panajachel, in particular, low-quality effluents are directly affecting tourism and fisheries, which are major income sources in the region. Evidence for alarm has already been detected.

    The workshopprovided a space for networking, sharing, and discussion among stakeholders on the common problem of wastewater management at Panajachel, and for getting a sense of local priorities and concerns. The assessment was structured in three main blocks: (i) reaching a shared understanding of the problem, (ii) identifying locally relevant criteria and thresholds against which the problem and solution options can be assessed, and (iii) agreeing on the criteria for probable solution options on site.

    An initial analysis of the information gathered from the assessment workshop makes it clear that in Panajachel many stakeholders are well-informed and very interested in participating in finding solutions to the wastewater issue. Information, however, is not evenly distributed among the  potential. stakeholders.

    Raising awareness and opening channels for broader participation along the decision-making process for wastewater management seem to be key issues in reaching sustainable solutions. These first impressions will continue to be tested throughout the development of the SludgeTec project.

    In August. the SludgeTec team embarked on a four-week field trip in Guatemala and Mexico to further assess the sustainability conditions at both pilot sites. Two training sessions also have been planned. Through a co-design process, various scenarios of sustainable solution options for wastewater management will be developed; these will then facilitate the process of collectively deciding on one of them during a closing workshop.

    For more about this project and workshop, see the news story on the UNU-FLORES website.