First Person: How youth and forests tackle Honduras’ water crisis

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Montserrat Xilotl, a Regional Technical Advisor in Climate Change Adaptation for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), explains why.

UNDP

Montserrat Xilotl, Regional Technical Advisor in Climate Change Adaptation for the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“Forests are nature’s water filters and storage systems. When rain falls, the trees, and vegetation capture and absorb it, allowing it to seep into the ground, replenishing aquifers, supplying drinking water to communities, and supporting agriculture.

Forests also help to regulate the flow of water in rivers and streams. The roots of plants and trees hold soil together. This prevents erosion and ensures that water flows smoothly, reducing the risks of flooding and droughts.

Unfortunately, Honduras has seen a notable loss of forest cover over the years, with high levels of deforestation driven largely by unsustainable agriculture and illegal logging, both in return the result of poverty. It is estimated that from 1990 to 2020, the country lost nine per cent of its forest coverage. It’s estimated that from 1990 to 2020, the country lost nine per cent of its forest coverage.

Recognizing the associated threats posed to people, ecosystems, and the economy, Honduras has been looking closely at nature-based solutions with a heavy emphasis on social inclusion.

Earlier this year, I flew to Tegucigalpa to see the work of one, financed by the global Adaptation Fund and implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (SERNA) with support from UNDP, in the country’s central forest corridor.

What I witnessed was inspiring. Young people and women leading the way with innovation and enthusiasm, bringing in local pride and demonstrating how local knowledge provides the best way forward, not only in adapting to climate change but also in caring for their country’s natural resources.

Young scientists are the key to monitoring and protecting clean water in Honduras.

UNDP/Maria-Jose Bu

Young scientists are the key to monitoring and protecting clean water in Honduras.

I met these young researchers at a lab at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, the National Autonomous University, which is key to understanding and solving the country’s water crisis.

Through the study of the ecology of water, they were integrating diverse practices to better monitor water sources and quality within the central forest corridor.

Researchers at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras are working on groundbreaking climate information and water modelling.

UNDP/Johan Edin Vallejo

Researchers at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras are working on groundbreaking climate information and water modelling.

The lab we were standing in had been created around 10 years earlier, through an initial collaboration between the ministry and university, supported by the Adaptation Fund and UNDP.

Instead of accepting payment, the university requested scientific equipment to analyse the water that flowed into the city. The university created a department to research water ecology, as well as a permanent laboratory, which looked at the relationship between water, physics, microbiology and climateology. This is a major step forward and provides the science that will be the foundation for addressing the climate crisis. I met a young woman leading her municipal fire brigade in order to protect their forests from fires. She spoke of the importance of forests to her community, and the pride she felt in stopping several forest blazes. She spoke of how the project taught her how to prepare the forest for fire season, how to follow protocols during a fire and how to communicate with other women living in nearby communities to encourage early detection. The new Adaptation Fund Project has allowed us to commission more ambitious analyses of water sources in the forest corridor, while taking into account climate change and increasing demand. As I boarded the flight back to Mexico, I realized that this was what transformational change looked like. It is young, diverse and proactive. I was able to understand why countries’ climate goals, known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, that engage youth, women and diverse populations are often more ambitious than those that don’t.

In the fight for a climate-resilient and prosperous future, it is clear that nature and youth are our most powerful assets.

We must nurture the potential of both.”

SDG 15

: SUSTAINABLY USE ECOSYSTEMS BY 2030

United Nations

SDG 15

Combat desertification, and restore degraded land and soilEnsure conservation of mountain ecosystems to enhance their capacity to provide benefits essential for sustainable development

SDG 15

Promote fair, equitable sharing of and access to benefits related to genetic resources use

End poaching and trafficking of protected species, and address demand and supply of illegal wildlife products

  • Mobilize and increase financial resources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems and to fund sustainable forest management
  • Escalating forest losses, land degradation, and species extinction pose severe threats to the planet and people.