International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

Partners in Action


Costa Rica studies its adaptability to climate change

By Sandra Salazar Vindas

According to different studies conducted by the National Meteorological Institute (IMN), of the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE), water resources represent one of the most vulnerable critical systems in this country . This situation has substantiated the implementation of a project aimed at strengthening our capacity to adapt to future situations regarding climate change.

Along these lines, the project entitled “Adaptability of the Water Sector to Climate Change” will provide politicians and decision-makers with key information, so that they can establish policies and strategies for both adaptability and mitigation in Costa Rica. This project also includes an educational and organizational component. Social actors from a number of communities and institutions will be able to participate in this process.

This will also serve as a follow-up process regarding the efforts devoted, for more than a decade, to improving this field. The major outcomes of these efforts were systematized in the document entitled “First National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”, published by MINAE-IMN in 2000.

National priorities

Some systems are more vulnerable than others in terms of climate change. Among others, these include water and coastal resources, agriculture and forests.

The water resource system was selected for this project, given that it is at risk due to a number of anthropogenic elements. Among others, we are referring to deforestation, soil erosion and natural phenomena such as hurricanes and earthquakes. In addition, different human systems are associated with water resources, including health, economic growth and agriculture, and therefore, food security. One of the policies that must be urgently reviewed is the one dealing with different ways to manage water use.

Drawing on this research, a National Adaptability Plan will be designed, which will include the existing National Development Plan. In this manner, the government will be able to ensure that all decisions –in terms of drafting and implementing programs intended to address vulnerability to climate change- will be made with the participation of local communities. This will also promote cooperation between the government, communities, non- governmental organizations and land users.

The Plan also includes the analysis of current legal, institutional, natural and social frameworks that have both positive and negative impacts on the possibilities of the water resource system to adapt to climate change. Based on this analysis, a final proposal will be submitted, which will include realistic adaptability measures, depending on the region where the project will be implemented.

A number of serious problems related to water resources have already been identified in Costa Rica. Among others, it is worth highlighting the following:

• There is a lack of an updated national inventory of drinking water sources;
• The location of both aquifers and recharge areas has not been technically defined;
• Changes in the overall rainfall patterns, associated with climate change and extreme events, place us at higher risk of droughts and floods;
• Tendencies of water resources: the arbitrary occupation of aquifer recharge areas puts the delivery of water supply at risk and contaminates watersheds. There exists inade quate wastewater treatment on the part of industries, as well as the progressive reduction of water resources due to deforestation in river basins;
• Costa Rica is the Central American country that most exploits its natural resources;
• Water use has increased significantly due to the population growth, current industrial development patterns, and commercial and tourist activities;
• The unplanned development of human settlements favors deforestation and the sealing of aquifer recharge areas; and,
• Institutional aspects: current tendencies in terms of budget cuts for social programs threaten the overall development of this sector. The Water Law of 1942 is obsolete.

Project areas

Consensus was reached regarding which aquifers, areas or rivers would be most affected if their levels of water recharge were reduced. As a result, it was determined that the most representative area of study was located to the northwest of the country’s central region, between the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia and San Jose, covering some 45,290 hectares. Priority will be given to the study of the population, infrastructure, economic development, land use and urban growth, in terms of the existing level of vulnerability.

Studies in other areas

A number of studies on vulnerability have been carried out in Costa Rica since the early 1990s, particularly in terms of water resources, agriculture, forests and coastal areas.

In addition, different climate scenarios have been developed in the face of potential future changes. Parameters used include air temperature, rainfall and cloud cover. Results show that both temperature and rainfall patterns may vary significantly throughout the country. The existing vulnerability of water resources is observed particularly in watersheds. For this reason, analyses focused on three basins that greatly contribute to the hydrologic development of Costa Rica: the Reventazón, Grande de Tárcoles and Grande de Térraba rivers. This included the study of significant variations within the currents of these three river basins.

According to these studies on the level of vulnerability, as well as the climate models applied, the following variations might take place throughout the country:

• Changes in the intensity, volume, duration and distribution of rainfall;
• Hurricanes and rainstorms as very harmful phenomena;
• Impact on currents, erosion and sedimentation, which will also increase flood-related problems;
• An unusual temperature rise and changes in rainfall patterns may make droughts last longer and reduce the water level of these rivers;
• The quality and quantity of drinking water would decrease due to salinization processes and the penetration of contaminated water into groundwater aquifers;
• Changes in the sea level and, as a result, in current coastlines. The most vulnerable areas to these changes include those beaches located near floodplains and
estuary marshes;
• Crops may be also affected by climate variability. Studies focused on four products: rice in the North Pacific; beans in the northern area; and potatoes and coffee in the
central region of Costa Rica;
• Forests: A reduction by 20% to 30% of tropical and rainforests may be experienced. This will favor the life zones within premontane lands. From a biodiversity perspective, tropical dry and rainforests would be affected, given that species would have to adapt to their displacement to other areas. In this sense, it would be necessary to have other forest areas available, with similar characteristics within surrounding life zones.

Other studies have been carried out in terms of:

• Reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases;
• Biological diversity; and,
• Impact assessment regarding the occurrence of extreme events under climate change conditions, which have an impact on the water sector.
• Measures for adaptability.

The Ministry of the Environment and Energy is the body responsible for managing climate change-related issues. In this context, two offices are in charge of projects related to this area: the Costa Rican Office for Joint Implementation (OCIC) and the National Meteorological Institute (IMN).

OCIC is responsible for all aspects related to the “Mechanisms for a Clean Development.” It is also the focal point to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. In addition, the IMN is in charge of scientific endeavors, including greenhouse gas inventories, studies on vulnerability and adaptability; and education, among others. The head of the IMN is the focal point to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since 1991, this institution has developed a program on climate change intended to reduce the level of uncertainty among the population, disseminate results of ongoing studies, coordinate further research, and evaluate all possibilities that Costa Rica has in terms of mitigation and adaptability to this reality.

For further information, please contact:
National Lastitate for Meteorology
la formation managemny
Tel (506) 222-5616