Published: Thursday 15 June 2000

Some 20 experts in river-basin management, sustainable development and other environmental fields from North America met Costa Rican leaders who deal with these problems on a local, regional and national level at a recent workshop organised by the Organization of Tropical Studies ( otc ) in Guanacaste. Entitled "Flood Protection and Wetland Conservation Alternatives: The Tempisque River", the workshop combined technical lectures with field trips to sugar plantations, Palo Verde National Park, and other affected areas.

At the end of the discussion, participants drafted a list of recommendations for the government. Through this type of interchange, the ots hopes to spark a national dialogue about developing an integrated approach to river-basin management. Especially because, as last year's flood season showed, finding the balance between ensuring the physical well-being of at-risk communities, protecting the business interests of the region's many agricultural producers and conserving the area's ecologically important wetlands is a complex task.

"We are looking into the face of catastrophe," said Gary Hartshorn, ots president. "As for the mega-development of the Tempisque region, it's clear why the local communities are so upset. They're the guys who are going to get hurt by the next flood or channel project," he points out.

For instance, the danger in a region like Santa Cruz, which has more than 30,000 inhabitants and hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land, is that when one community or farm builds a protective canal, others follow suit, and a series of dike wars begin. Without careful coordination, a canal built in one place can have multiple and often disastrous effects downriver, Hartshorn explains. Jorge Arturo Jimnez, ots director in Costa Rica, said: "Eventually we're going to have to look at river-basin management in an integrated way, instead of going at it through a piecemeal approach."

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