Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Scale as a Key Factor for Sustainable Water Management in Northwest Honduras

Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Scale as a Key Factor for Sustainable Water Management in Northwest Honduras

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Sustainable water management (an organizational mode that preserves the renewability of the resource and equitable access to it) in less developed countries is fast becoming one of the greatest environmental challenges of the twenty-first century (UNICEF and WHO 2011). The United Nations Human Rights Council recently passed a global resolution (Resolution 64/292) declaring "safe and clean drinking water and sanitation" a basic human right (cf. Bakker 2007; Mirosa and Harris 2011; UN 2010), and calling on states and international agencies to supply financial resources, technology transfer, and capacity building to provide for safe and accessible water and sanitation. Meanwhile, in Honduras, government agencies charged with overseeing water and sanitation have largely failed to meet the demands of growing metropolitan areas (Balthasar 2011). Private sector participation in water and sanitation services in periurban regions of the country has also experienced significant challenges and setbacks (Phumpiu and Gustafsson 2009). Community-based interventions in rural sectors by outside development organizations seeking to design treatment and delivery of potable water have also been largely ineffective (Fogelberg 2010). Even self-organized efforts by communities in different residential contexts have been unsustainable (Casey 2005). Why are communities in Honduras struggling to obtain safe and clean water?

In this article, we take a holistic look at the social, economic, ecological, and engineered contexts of gravity-fed water systems in the Palmarejo Valley, a predominantly rural sector in northwest Honduras, with the greater goal of identifying key barriers to long-term sustainability of water provisioning. In doing so, we apply a systems-based perspective employing a grounded-theory and mixed-methods approach to cultural analysis (e.g., Billgreen and Holmén 2008; Loker 2003; Wells et al. 2014), which allows us to view water management as a socioecological system (Bennett 1976) that couples human behaviors and perceptions with the biophysical environment. This perspective resembles what geographers and other social scientists increasingly refer to as the "hydrosocial cycle" (Linton 2014; Sultana and Loftus 2012; Swyngedouw 2009), which "attends to the social nature of [hydrological] flows as well as the agential role played by water, while highlighting the dialectical and relational processes through which water and society interrelate" (Linton and Budds 2013:1). After describing the household and community contexts of water management systems in Honduras, we present the results of our emerging work in the Palmarejo Valley, where we have conducted interviews with valley residents and community leaders, mapped cultural and environmental features using GPS, and performed water quality tests to measure levels and isolate sources of heavy metals and bacterial contamination.

We have observed that community-based approaches commonly employed in development projects in this region may not be appropriate in all contexts due, in part, to the scale at which they operate. While the utility of the concept of scale has been debated (Leitner and Miller 2007; Marston et al. 2005; Moore 2008), we find it useful in our research for characterizing the sociospatial constructs that actors develop and deploy in different political and economic contexts to influence how individuals, organizations, and institutions manage resources (see Herod 2011; e.g., Goodman et al. 2008). Here, our emphasis is not on spatial categories, per se, but on the social processes that constitute them (Marston 2000) and the connections that link them (Latour 1993). The social construction of scale can thus be seen as a material expression of power relations (MacKinnon 2010). Water, in particular, is increasingly subject to "scale challenges" (Cash et al. 2006), because it moves across social and natural landscapes-or waterscapes (Budds and Hinojosa 2012)-that crosscut multiple scales (Norman et al. …

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