Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey
In the province of Tungurahua, located in the central region of Ecuador, overpopulation is the main socio-environmental problem, with a population density of 172 inhabitants per square kilometre. In addition, the west of the province is marked by dry conditions, which cause a water deficit of around 40 percent in the low water season in its main river basin, that of the Ambato River. The main natural water source in Tungurahua is the moorland – a high-mountain ecosystem located near the equator over 3,300 metres above sea level. Its main ecological function is water regulation; it stores most water in the rainy season, which it releases gradually in the dry season. Indigenous and rural communities live close to the moorland and depend on its ecosystem, not only for their water supply, but also as the basis for their way of life and to satisfy their basic needs. Their activities advance agricultural frontiers and cause fires, overgrazing, and human disturbances, putting its natural structure at serious risk. This situation is aggravated by the potential effects of climate change. While the supply of water in sufficient quantity and quality for the development of the province of Tungurahua depends on the good health of the moorland ecosystem, its progressive deterioration caused by productive economic activity (particularly by populations suffering higher levels of poverty) is the main barrier to be overcome and the main problem to be resolved. This is to be achieved by funding productive initiatives proposed by these communities, provided that they help improve their quality of life and decrease the pressure on the moorland ecosystem’s natural structure. This setting posed a great challenge in terms of managing the province: recovering and maintaining the functionality of the moorland on the one hand, and improving the quality of life of the inhabitants who depend directly on this environment on the other. This is precisely where the need arises for moorland management plans as management instruments that reflect agreements and commitments by various actors, with the aim of reconciling moorland communities’ social and economic development with care and conservation of the moorland as a heritage to be enjoyed by present and future generations.
Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved
Under an initiative of the indigenous and rural organisations in the province of Tungurahua that aimed to help supply water in sufficient quantity and quality to ensure the development of its inhabitants, two tools to manage and conserve the moorland ecosystem as the main natural water source in the province were proposed. The first is a planning tool consisting of moorland management plans driven by the indigenous and rural vision of Tungurahua. These are drawn up by the moorland communities and have three components: the environment, economic production, and socio-organisational aspects. They gather information on inhabitants’ needs to contribute to their economic and productive development in harmony with the management and conservation of the moorland ecosystem, in a framework that supports socio-organisational aspects. The second tool is a local finance tool created to provide long-term funding for plans, programmes and projects that contribute to conserving the moorland ecosystem by improving the quality of life of the indigenous and rural communities that live nearby. This tool is called the Tungurahua Moorland and Poverty Reduction Fund. Local government and other local institutions welcomed the initiative of Tungurahua’s indigenous and rural organisations. Since 2008, the Tungurahua Moorland and Poverty Reduction Fund has been operating as a commercial administration trust, constituting a funding mechanism that channels the efforts and resources of the province’s public, private and community institutions to communities so that the aforementioned moorland management plans may be drawn up and implemented. This contributes to the sustainable management of 33,750 hectares of moorland, improving the quality of life of 15,000 families and providing environmental training to around 30,000 people. Locally, it contributes to seven of the nine national development goals to be achieved by 2021 and to 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030, and its management has been recognised at the national and international levels. The fund’s design considered the way paved by the Fund for the Protection of Water (FONAG) in Quito.
How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?
The local funding mechanism provides long-term support to plans, programmes and projects that improve the quality of life of indigenous and rural communities living close to the moorland. Firstly, it ensures financial resilience for conservation activities because I believe that the fund is a mechanism created to support long-term ecosystem management and conservation action, meaning that the flow of financial resources to support these initiatives is guaranteed. Secondly, improving the quality of life of those living close to the moorland also allows them to improve their resilience to the potential effects of climate change. By improving their productivity in areas unrelated to conservation, they may increase their income and maintain the good health of the moorland’s ecosystem, together with communities active in the same area, and improve their quality of life, continuing as the eternal guardians of our province’s natural water supply.
What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?
Decision-making is shared between the indigenous and rural communities, the managers of the province's water and hydroelectric companies, and local authorities. We are a public-private-community alliance created with a common goal: conserving the natural water source to enable the province to develop in all areas. We are the result of an act of solidarity and shared responsibility for water conservation through which public, private and community entities that benefit from water in areas at lower altitudes share part of that benefit with the communities at higher altitudes that are responsible for caring for the moorland. We do so by providing them with financial, technical, and logistical resources so that they may undertake alternative productive activity that exists in harmony with the main water source, thereby guaranteeing water in sufficient quantity and quality for the development of all those living in Tungurahua.
What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?
Tungurahua enjoys a very productive socio-economic culture, and its inhabitants are commercial and industrial by nature; in some cases, this leads to them neglecting the importance of conserving natural resources, particularly water. Furthermore, we must bear in mind the poverty suffered by the indigenous and rural communities who sacrifice their right to development to care for the moorland that benefits those of us who live downstream.
In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?
Yes, because the results have been positive. The future is promising and the seeds have been sown in fertile ground. Only if people stop believing and participating in its management model will our project be at risk.
What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?
That we cannot talk about conservation without first solving the issue of poverty and improving the quality of life of communities – generally indigenous and rural communities – that live in or near to the sites we want to conserve. Change is possible. Often when beginning a project, the first thing we think about is the money we need to execute it. In our case, we are a local funding mechanism that has learned that to ensure our financial sustainability, three fundamental elements are needed: firstly, a clear need; secondly, a management model designed on the basis of the clear needs of the social and institutional actors within the territory; and thirdly, political will, not only on the part of the authorities, but also of each of the social actors within the territory. Once those three elements are in place, the money comes in, and sustainability is guaranteed.