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Household and community responses to seasonal droughts in rural areas of Costa Rica



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Abstract: This paper describes the adaptive responses of rural households
and community-based drinking water organizations (CWOs) during
seasonal droughts in Costa Rica. It empirically characterizes the adaptive
measures used by 3,410 households and 81 CWOs in the driest area of the
country. Volumetric pricing is a powerful adaptation option for managing
water scarcity during these periods. However, these pricing schemes are not
properly set to recover costs for adequate investment in water infrastructure.
As a result, many CWOs rely on external financial support to cover these
investments. The financial and governance restrictions characterizing most
CWOs must be overcome in order to implement most of the adaptation
measures identified for preparedness against seasonal drought. On the other
hand, some rural households use water sources in addition to the tap water
provided by CWOs (e.g. bottled water), as well as water-storing devices
(e.g. buckets). The lack of effective adaptation of CWOs to water scarcity,
expressed by unreliable piped-water systems, would probably lead to a higher
use of these alternatives. This would entail higher costs to households, due
to the time and resources invested in these activities. These costs and the
potential additional costs on health represent the social costs of community
failures to adapt to drier scenarios in existing piped-water systems.
Keywords: institutions, adaptation, climate change, governance, volumetric pricing
THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development recognize the critical role that access to safe water has for sustain-
able development (UN, 2016, 2017). However, despite successfully achieving
the Millennium Development Goal of halving worldwide the percentage of people
without access to an improved drinking water source by 2010 (UN, 2015), 844 million
people still lacked even a basic drinking water service (WHO and UNICEF, 2017).
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) still faces challenges to achieve SDG 6 on
clean water and sanitation because access to safe water is only guaranteed to 72.9 per
cent of the population and the gap in access between the urban and rural sectors
persists (LATINOSAN, 2019).
Household and community responses
to seasonal droughts in rural areas of
Costa Rica
Róger Madrigal-Ballestero, Tabaré Capitán,
Ariana Salas, and Daniela Córdoba
Róger Madrigal-Ballestero ( Director of EfD-CA/CLADA, Costa Rica; Tabaré Capitán
( PhD student in the Department of Economics, University of Wyoming, USA;
Ariana Salas ( PhD student in the Department of Political Science, University
of California, Santa Barbara, USA; Daniela Córdoba ( research assistant at
the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, CATIE, Costa Rica
© Practical Action Publishing, 2019,, ISSN: 0262-8104/1756-3488 - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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October 2019 Waterlines Vol. 38 No. 4
Droughts occur all over LAC, but are more severe in the drylands (Brüntrup
and Tsegai, 2017). Droughts affect agriculture and water supply systems and,
hence, alter economic and environmental outcomes causing social problems
such as migration, poverty, and disproportionate burdens on women (Brüntrup
and Tsegai, 2017). In addition, there are potential negative effects of droughts
on health conditions as these events could increase the risk of diarrhoea, infections,
and the survival of vectors of diseases, mostly in densely populated areas of devel-
oping countries (Desbureaux and Rodella, 2019). Climate change and variability
will likely aggravate this type of problem (IPCC, 2014; WWAP, 2019). Acting to
combat climate change and its impacts, as well as to build resilience in responding
to climate-related hazards has been manifested as an urgent need for development
(UN, 2016).
The provision of safe water for human consumption in most rural and peri-
urban areas depends on the existence of reliable piped water systems. In many
locations, as in rural Costa Rica, this infrastructure is mostly administered
by community-based drinking water organizations (CWOs). CWOs are small
organizational structures supported by people appointed by their communities
to coordinate actions intended to guarantee water for human consumption.
In Costa Rica, these CWOs manage water systems providing services through
intra-household connection grids. They rely on springs or wells to feed the
demand in their communities.
Although it is difficult to assess quantitatively the impact of periodical droughts
on CWOs, it is likely that these stressing periods further complicate the ability of
these organizations to provide a good water service. In the absence of adaptive
responses by CWOs to cope with droughts, many households need to assume the
costs of finding alternative ways to secure safe water, such as investing in water
storage devices or using additional water sources. Unfortunately, there is still a
significant gap in knowledge about the extent of such adaptive measures and the
factors conditioning household and CWOs’ capacities to implement solutions in
response to external disturbances such as droughts (Murtinho, 2014; Madrigal and
Naranjo, 2015).
The objective of this paper is to better understand the adaptive responses
of rural households and CWOs during dry seasons in Costa Rica. We empiri-
cally characterize the adaptive measures implemented at the household and
community level. We also explore the main factors facilitating the implementation of
such adaptive responses, as well as the extent to which they might be associated with
the CWOs’ performance and their financial and governance attributes. Additionally,
we discuss the role of external support and the requirements for scaling-up the
adaptive solutions identified.
Rural drinking water sector overview
The community-based model for water supply in the rural areas of many devel-
oping countries is the predominant management approach, although not system-
atically supported or regulated (Lockwood et al., 2017). The CWOs in Latin - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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America and other regions emerged with the purpose of increasing the coverage
of drinking water in rural areas, incorporating community members into the
establishment of water systems, and setting prices according to local needs and
realities (Whittington et al., 2009; Machado et al., 2019). Governments, NGOs,
and international donors have provided CWOs with various degrees and types of
financial and technical assistance in the construction phase and the subsequent
maintenance (Whittington et al., 2009; Hutchings et al., 2015).
There are around 145,000 CWOs in Latin America (around 35,000 in Central
America), supplying piped water to over 70 million inhabitants (40−70 per cent
of the rural population) (Zambrana, 2017). In Costa Rica, there are nearly 1,500
CWOs that provide water to approximately 1.5 million people (representing 27 per
cent of the total population in the country) in rural and peri-urban areas (Madrigal
et al., 2011; Zambrana, 2017). According to a recent diagnostic of CWOs in LAC,
the percentage of the country’s population served by these suppliers in Costa Rica is
among the highest in the region (Zambrana, 2017).
Although there are notable exceptions, many of these organizations, including
those in Costa Rica, have structural problems that expose households in these
systems to water shortages and water quality problems (Thorsten, 2007; Prokopy
et al., 2008; Madrigal et al. 2011; Zambrana, 2017). This is mostly explained by
their lack of a demand-driven approach, weak governance structures, limited post-
construction support, poor leadership, limited participation of women in decision
making processes, deficient risk management, and limited ability to cope with
external changes (Whittington et al., 2009; Madrigal et al., 2011; Madrigal and
Naranjo, 2015; Hutchings et al., 2015; Zambrana, 2017). Thus, under these low
performing conditions of CWOs, households have to invest in private tanks and
boreholes, or use strategies such as rationing and storing to satisfy their daily needs
(Sagüí et al., 2017).
Despite differences in the performance of CWOs in Costa Rica in relation to water
continuity and quality (ICAA et al., 2002; Madrigal et al., 2011), more than 90 per cent
of people in Costa Rican rural areas have tap water in their houses via intra-household
connection grids, with an average consumption of ~20 m3 per household monthly
(four members on average) (DIGECA, 2016). Part of this success is explained by large
investments in infrastructure made by the Costa Rican government in past decades.
The Costa Rican Institute of Water and Sanitation (ICAA, by its Spanish acronym)
was created in 1961 to oversee the provision of drinking water, and to be responsible
for the design, construction, and management of water infrastructure (ICAA et al.,
2002). This agency built and originally operated most of these rural water systems
but the administration was later transferred to CWOs (Madrigal et al., 2011). These
organizations did not have to repay the initial costs but needed to sign a delegation
agreement including rules on water fees and organization, accountability and
quality standards, among others (Madrigal et al., 2011). All CWOs are adminis-
tered by a local committee elected by adult villagers, with no quotas for gender or
social distinction. Members of CWOs have ad honorem positions and, despite the
delegation agreement, most are subject to very little direct influence from the Costa
Rican government in their operational and strategic decisions. - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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Theoretical background
Vulnerability to climate change, or the susceptibility to harm, is modulated by the
adaptive capacity of the system being exposed (Engle, 2011). Adaptation measures
are manifestations of adaptive capacity and these are usually classified as hard adaptation
measures (e.g. the construction of additional infrastructure to store water) or soft
adaptation measures (e.g. pricing, changes in institutions) (World Bank, 2010).
The complementarity of hard and soft options within a framework of integrated,
adaptive water resource management will be essential to guarantee water security
(Sadoff and Muller, 2010).
Given the uncertainties associated with the impacts of climate change and
variability in general, and particularly on the availability of water, there are literature
and policy debates arguing the need to promote low-regrets adaptations to deal with
drier climatic scenarios. Low-regret actions are a type of robust adaptation measure
(either hard or soft) that yield net benefits regardless of uncertainty about future
climate (Dilling et al., 2015; Brüntrup and Tsegai, 2017). Improving water efficiency
(via prices or technology) under any climate context is an example of a low-regrets
policy since no matter the realized impacts on water availability, its implementation
will improve the management of water, and potentially, the wellbeing of people
(Bryan et al., 2019).
Little research on the adaptive capacity of CWOs in Latin America has been
conducted. Murtinho et al. (2013) assess the influence of external support on the
initiative of adaptation to water scarcity in communities in Colombia. They found
that solicited external support ‘crowds in’ people’s efforts. Also in Colombia,
Murtinho (2014) identifies that adaptation strategies used by CWOs are influenced by
the perception of water scarcity, capacity to attract external resources, and collective
management experience. In Costa Rica, Madrigal and Naranjo (2015) contrast six
CWOs and identify factors influencing the capacity to deal with seasonal droughts
through the implementation of hard and soft adaptation options. They found that
key abilities to implement these measures depend on the technical capacities of
the water board, the ability to collect internal and external funding, and the social
capital imbedded in the communities. More broadly, assessments of the adaptive
capacity of a community to external climatic disturbances concur on their abilities
to coordinate collective action and self-organization towards the mobilization of
funds, but also acknowledge the importance of context-specific variables, social
capital, political connections, and regulatory structures (Adger et al., 2005; Bisaro
et al., 2018).
Additionally, Eakin et al. (2016) analysed the capacity of households in Mexico to
adapt to water scarcity and found that households with more economic resources
can cope with water shortages through the purchase of large cisterns, bottled water,
or storage tanks. In general, households tend to ration the water service and search for
storage methods in cooperation with neighbours. In a different context, Pattanayak
et al. (2005) assessed the behavioural responses and associated costs from house-
holds depending on unreliable water services in Nepal. This study identified five
main coping costs: collection costs, pumping and drawing costs, treatment costs, - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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storage costs, and purchase costs. These cost estimates add up to 1 per cent of the
household’s monthly income. Using similar methods, Sagüí et al. (2017) found that
unreliable water community systems in Guatemala induce local villagers to invest
US$15 per month in coping methods including storage containers and alternative
water sources.
Study site: climatic characteristics
This study is located in the North Pacific area of Costa Rica. Normal weather
conditions in this region are characterized by moderate annual rainfall ranging
from 1,500 to 2,500 mm and average temperatures ranging daily from 22°C to
32°C. However, only 4 per cent of total annual precipitation occurs during the dry
season (from December to April), a period which also has the highest average
temperatures (IMN, 2009a). The temperature and precipitation in this area are
influenced by the warm phase of the climate phenomenon known as El Niño
Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Fifteen ENSOs lasting from 6 to 10 months have
affected Central America since 1961, generating further stress on agricultural and
drinking water systems, among other critical impacts (Bonilla, 2014). The occurrence
of ENSO in any given year reduces, on average, the total annual precipitation
by 26 per cent (IMN, 2009b). On the other hand, projections provide sufficient
evidence that water availability may be affected in the near future. Estimates
suggest that most areas of Central America, including presently arid regions and
our study site, will suffer from reductions greater than 20 per cent in water availability
by 2050 (Imbach et al., 2018).
We defined the study area using atmospheric information from the last 50 years.
Specifically, our region of interest, identified as the dark areas in Figure 1, is defined
by the lowest decile of the distribution of the average of the cumulative rainfall
during the three driest months per year in Costa Rica.
With the help of secondary information from ICAA and other official records,
we identified a total of 164 CWOs in this prioritized area. Most of these CWOs
(84 per cent) use pumping technology as their main source to feed their water
systems. We focus on these CWOs to facilitate comparisons since they tend to be
more complex to operate and entail more maintenance costs due to electricity
use than those based on gravity. From this population of 137 CWOs we randomly
selected a representative sample of 81 CWOs.
The communities under analysis are similar in terms of socioeconomic character-
istics. A vast majority of sampled communities are located in municipalities ranked
as experiencing low development according to the IDS – an index created with
official indicators on education, income, and health (MIDEPLAN, 2013).
We collected two types of data. First, we conducted in-depth interviews with at
least two representatives (simultaneously) of each water board. During the interview - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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Figure 1
we asked questions regarding financial and operational management, human capital,
past investment decisions and plans to deal with seasonal droughts, and perception
about effectiveness of adaptation measures, among other relevant information.
We complemented this with a rapid assessment of the water infrastructure, including
measuring water at the source. Second, we collected data from households subscribed
to the CWO. We estimated a statistically representative sample of households from
each community (size varied in each community) and we used systematic sampling
to select participating households in each community (Scheaffer et al., 1987).
We collected 3,410 surveys (adding samples from all 81 communities) with the help of
four enumerators. We applied surveys to heads of households only; the non-response
rate, mostly due to absentee landowners, was 7 per cent on average.
Surveys included questions on a multidimensional evaluation of the performance
of the CWO, family responses to water scarcity, and general socioeconomic charac-
teristics, among other relevant information. The evaluation of the performance
of CWOs is a complex task involving different dimensions. Nevertheless, given
our focus on drought management, we used different indicators collected from - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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the household surveys as proxies for how well the CWO is performing during dry
periods, particularly in providing sufficient water. Given the absence of records on
water delivery by CWOs to each customer, we used the average quantity of hours of
daily service reported by households over the last dry season as the main indicator
of performance. As a complement, we also present the variability of reports within
the community (measured by the standard deviation) as an indicator of equity
in the distribution of water during these periods. We acknowledge that self-reports
could be misleading due to poor memory; however, given the sample size of house-
holds per community, we expect potential errors leading to under- or over-estimations
to cancel each other.
All data collection through surveys and interviews obtained ethical approval
from an appropriate research ethics committee to assure informed consent from
participants. Surveys and interview instruments can be provided by the authors
upon request. We used descriptive statistics and a qualitative approach to analyse
existing data.
Results and discussion
General characteristics and performance of CWOs
The sampled CWOs provide water for 177 private intra-household connections
on average (127 standard deviation) with a coverage of 95 per cent of homes in
the community. All CWOs use electric pump water systems and 96 per cent rely
exclusively on groundwater. The age of the existing infrastructure varies across
communities and the component considered. Wells and tanks are 20 years old
on average, with the main pipeline being an average of 29 years old. In addition,
some CWOs have other assets. For instance, 55 per cent have land properties,
22 per cent have their own office for administrative matters, and 34 per cent
have a computer.
The typical water board in our sample has an average of five people, including
president, vice-president, treasurer, and other minor positions. In addition, 40 per
cent of committee members are female (33 per cent of committees are composed of
more than 50 per cent women, 17 per cent have a female president), have on average
five years of experience as members of the water board, their average education level
is between incomplete and complete high school finally, most committee members
have no specific training in water management and organizational matters.
Figure 2 summarizes the report from households on the number of hours of daily
water service during the last dry season. A large fraction of CWOs provided a fairly
continuous water service during the day in the last dry season The CWOs in the
higher four quintiles provide water 23.5 hours a day on average. However, the lowest
quintile has an average of 14.2 hours. These results are relatively stable since 90 per
cent of households reported no variation in hours of service during the last five dry
seasons (in addition, 76 per cent of CWOs have functional chlorination devices and
comply with regular bacteriological quality tests confirming water is potable).
Also as indicated in Figure 2, the variation in the average number of hours per
community (measured as the standard deviation per community) increases as the - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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Sd hours with piped water
Average hours with piped water
Figure 2 Reported number of hours of daily service: averages and standard deviation
average number of hours reported per community decreases. In other words, those
communities with the lowest continuity of water service also show the highest
inequity in water distribution. The unequal distribution of water through the network
is probably due to altitudinal differences affecting pumping engine capacities or
deficiencies in the infrastructure of distribution, among other reasons, suggesting
the poor managerial capacity of the CWO to deal with these problems.
Despite being located in the driest region of Costa Rica, water availability at
the source is not a limiting factor for most CWOs. The technical evaluation
conducted shows that for 98 per cent of CWOs water availability at the source
is sufficient to satisfy the needs of customers. On average, CWOs have 4.2 times
more water at the source than households need, based on theoretical estimations
of consumption. In this way, the differences in the performance of CWOs may
be due largely to management and administration issues. As the literature on the
performance of CWOs suggests (recapitulated above), organizational and financial
issues could be the most important determinants in this regard. Research in Costa
Rica has shown that the amount of savings, the use of volumetric pricing, and the
willingness of villagers to pay for infrastructure investments, as well as account-
ability and other rules enforced by the local organization are associated with better
CWO performance (Madrigal et al., 2011, 2013). Instead of adding more evidence
along the same line of other papers exploring the determinants of performance
of CWOs in Costa Rica, our focus is to describe in detail the adaptation measures
implemented in response to droughts. Further, we will analyse the mediating role - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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of some organizational and financial aspects, as well as external support, in the
implementation of adaptive responses.
Adaptation measures implemented by CWO
On average, CWOs have implemented three adaptation measures over the last
10 years. Table 1 summarizes the hard and soft adaptation measures implemented
by the sampled CWOs. The first column indicates whether the CWO used these
adaptation options in the last 10 years. All hard adaptation measures refer to modifi-
cations or additional investments made after the initial construction of the water
systems. Soft adaptations relate to modifications of rules for water use and educa-
tional campaigns.
Most CWOs have invested in improvements in distribution networks (see column 1,
Table 1), 53 per cent have implemented metering systems to regulate demand,
and only 31 per cent and 25 per cent of CWOs use rationing and prohibitions,
respectively. Despite the higher use of hard adaptations, we also found that soft and
hard adaptations are actually working simultaneously, particularly in the absence
of metered connections. Although soft adaptations (e.g. rationing and prohibi-
tions) were less used overall in the last 10 years, our interviews suggested that these
options tend to be implemented before hard adaptations because they entail lower
financial costs.
Most authors considered adaptations as adjustments made in response to distur-
bances, but they differed with regard to whether the adaptation must be planned
Table 1
Source of funding
(% community-
Hard adaptation
 44   37 93
Additional wells 33   77 48 
  82 94  
of distribution
  97 97 28 
Soft adaptation
Rationing    88  
for certain uses
(e.g. feed cattle)
   
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October 2019 Waterlines Vol. 38 No. 4
and whether it must necessarily have a positive intent (Murtinho and Hayes, 2011).
In our case, not all adaptations have been consciously implemented to deal with
droughts or water scarcity (see column 2, Table 1). Another powerful adaptation
driver, particularly for the use of metered connections, is the need to reduce electricity
bills. Thus, fewer hours of pumping of wells due to reductions in total consumption
are an important financial relief for most CWOs. Additionally, no matter the main
motivation for the adaptive reaction, almost all implemented alternatives are
reactive to an existing problem, rather than preventive (see column 3, Table 1).
On the other hand, we asked every CWO committee if they considered those
adaptation measures implemented as effective or not to achieve the intended
objectives. The perception about effectiveness differed, but there is a tendency
to give a better evaluation to hard adaptation measures than to the soft options,
mostly due to the difficulties in enforcing regulations such as prohibitions or
in motivating significant changes in consumption behaviour through savings
campaigns (see column 4, Table 1).
In particular, the use of metering systems at home is perceived as the most effective
adaptation measure. Most CWO leaders concur that this feature allows the charging
of volumetric water fees and hence might create the appropriate economic signals
to limit excessive water consumption and to repair intra-household pipe leaks.
Although we are not claiming any causation, the existence of metering systems at
home seems to be a positive factor associated with the number of hours of service
reported. While 85 per cent of high-performing CWOs (23.5 h/day on average) have
metering systems installed in all houses, only 25 per cent of CWOs with lower levels
of performance (14.2 h/day on average) have this technology. The reader should be
cautious to conclude that hard adaptations are always preferred from a standpoint
of total effectiveness or cost-effectiveness. In fact, hard and soft adaptions could
eventually complement each other as suggested by some community leaders.
The last two columns in Table 1 give some insights in relation to the conditions
facilitating or hindering the implementation of adaptive responses. Despite the
technical complexity involved in the design and construction of hard adaptation
measures, only 30−50 per cent of these measures have been implemented with
external technical support. Unfortunately, 18 per cent of attempts to implement
hard adaptation measures have failed, mostly due to technical complexities of water
well design and construction. These failed adaptations not only limit the capacity
of the local communities to deal with water scarcity and waste valuable financial
resources, but they also reflect the need for appropriate technical support and
training to prevent these failures.
In addition, similar to other studies in Colombia and Costa Rica (Murtinho
et al., 2013; Murtinho, 2014; Madrigal and Naranjo, 2015), external financial
support seems to be particularly relevant for facilitating adaptation, especially
for those investments that tend to be more costly, such as additional wells and
storage tanks (as indicated in column 6, Table 1). In fact, most local leaders
stated that these adaptation measures would not have been possible without
the external financial support to complement the local monies. The dependency
on external financial support could limit timely adaptive responses but could also - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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be associated with intrinsic financial issues affecting CWOs. However, it is
acknowledged in other contexts that most CWOs are not designed with a full
cost-recovery goal in mind (Whittington et al., 2009). This might be true for the Costa
Rican case, but it may also be that some incentives could motivate CWOs to be
particularly reluctant to charge more substantial fees.
Hence, at least three reasons could explain the degree of dependency of CWOs on
external monies to finance hard adaptation measures. First, a perverse cycle between
low performance, lack of funds to manage the water system, and unwillingness to pay
on the part of customers might be in place. Most CWOs have little cash for spare
parts, electricity bills, labour, or savings. Data gathered revealed that 10 per cent
of CWOs have had no cash savings in the last two years, and 27 per cent of sampled
CWOs have no spare parts in stock at the time of the interview. Past empirical
evidence on CWOs in Costa Rica suggests that savings, including cash and spare parts,
seem to be critical for dealing with day-to-day operational challenges affecting water
delivery (Madrigal and Naranjo, 2015). In line with that hypothesis, high-performing
CWOs in our sample reported average savings of $7,880, while low-performing CWOs
reported only $1,538 at the time of the interview. Similarly, our data shows that
CWOs implementing hard adaptation measures have approximately 25 per cent
more savings in total than those with no hard adaptations.
Second, external dependency might also be due to poor design of water fees
and the lack of enforcement of its implementation. Despite the legal obligation to
meet water fees set by the National Authority for Regulating Public Services, many
CWOs deviated in practice from that by charging smaller water fees. Although in
our surveys some CWOs claim this is due to the poverty of their customers, other
interviewees suggested that local leaders of CWOs tend to seek the acceptance of
villagers by setting relatively small water fees and by tolerating water fee delinquency.
As result, income from water fees is generally not even sufficient to appropriately
cover maintenance costs.
Third, the participation of external actors in financing was very high for the
initial construction of the water network. These infusions of external capital could
have created the expectation in some communities that when a major problem
arrives an external actor will come to solve it. In addition, in cases where no major
investments are needed, it might seem reasonable for some CWOs to set water fees
just high enough to cover operational costs and then wait until a critical moment
arrives to collect money from the community or elsewhere.
The technical and financial aspects hindering adaptation could be further associated
with problems in the governance structure and other characteristics of CWOs.
In fact, these factors are often cited as key drivers of the performance of these
operators (Whittington et al., 2009; Madrigal et al., 2011). In this regard, our data
suggests that the limited capacity to implement hard adaptation measures might
be associated with the size of CWOs. That is, smaller CWOs (around 100 connec-
tions) tend to have no hard adaptations with generally lower total income and
savings. In addition, some attributes of governance such as having financial state-
ments and bank accounts, higher formal education of the president of the CWO,
and more frequent meetings of the water board tend to be associated with CWOs’ - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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October 2019 Waterlines Vol. 38 No. 4
having higher performance and having implemented hard adaptation measures.
Broadly, based on our data and other evidence in Costa Rica (Madrigal et al., 2011;
Zambrana, 2017), the major limitation for providing reliable water services is the
weak governance structures and managerial practices, rather than the lack of water
at the source. This suggests that strengthening these aspects and especially focusing
on smaller CWOs, is an enabling condition for better performance and adaptive
capacity of these providers.
On the other hand, most CWOs (84 per cent) would like to improve their water
systems in the next five years, mainly by improving their distribution networks
(31 per cent), using new water sources (22 per cent), and building additional tanks
(18 per cent). For most CWOs (54 per cent), the principal motivation for investing
in these alternatives is to react against minor or moderate scarcity problems
existing today; mainly during the dry season. Interestingly, though, in 30 per cent
of the cases, those CWO leaders would like to implement these adaptations as
preventive investments to deal with future expected water shortages. In addition,
it seems that those CWOs with adaptation plans mimic some of the salient attributes
of CWOs that have implemented adaptive responses in the past. In particular,
these CWOs have more savings (almost twice as much), tend to be larger (almost
twice as many connections), and have some governance attributes suggesting a
higher degree of formality such as having a bank account and financial statements
(almost twice as much).
Finally, of the CWOs that have adaptation plans for the next five years, 85 per
cent reported the need for external support to implement them, mostly in the form
of cash or materials, although also legal and technical support was requested. It is
noteworthy that 48 per cent of high-performing and 72 per cent of low-performing
CWOs requiring financial support insisted that without external help the likelihood
of implementing the desired investment plan is minimal. (To avoid biases in the
responses of CWO leaders, our team in the field emphasized that we cannot provide
any funding for these plans.) As in the previous discussions, the role of technical
and financial support seems to be a critical condition for the preparedness of CWOs
for dry seasons.
The findings on the adaptation of CWOs to dry seasons in Costa Rica can shed
light on the alternatives that other community water suppliers can implement for
preparedness against similar events. These options, particularly those controlling
water demand through pricing and metering constitute low-regrets adaptations
(Dilling et al., 2015; Brüntrup and Tsegai, 2017) because they are expected to render
benefits irrespective of the realization of expected impacts of climate change.
Nevertheless, the financial and governance restrictions identified here must be
overcome so that these solutions can be scaled up. In some contexts, it would
be important to identify the role of fairness and affordability issues, cultural
factors, religious beliefs, and interest groups against changes promoting water
demand management. Some of these opposing forces can be minimized through
education campaigns, increasing awareness of climate change impacts on water
resources, and better account of interdependencies across the energy, irrigation,
industry, and human consumption sectors. Achieving results in this regard might - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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be cumbersome, but climate change adaptation is a long-term process that calls for
comprehensive approaches.
Household level adaptation
Some households use water sources in addition to the tap as well as water-storing
devices. In the first case, 11 per cent of households use additional water sources, such
as private wells, bottled water, water trucks, and creeks, among others. However,
with the exception of bottled water, these water sources are used for other purposes
rather than human consumption, cooking, or washing. This suggests that some
households have learned how to complement different water sources in the quest
to satisfy all water needs.
Among these additional sources, the most common alternative reported by
households is the private well (8.9 per cent). However, it is not clear that the use
of wells can be considered as an actual adaptation strategy or conscious reaction to
water scarcity. This is mostly because private wells were built on average 22 years ago,
a time before the construction of most community water networks. In addition,
3 per cent of households use bottled water as an additional source of water to cope
with water shortages, but most importantly, to deal with water quality problems.
This seems to be true since only 76 per cent of CWOs chlorinate water, and then
only on an irregular basis. The use of other water sources, such as rivers and creeks,
is minimal (less 1 per cent).
When it comes to water storage, the story is quite different and suggests that
these coping alternatives are more clearly associated with individual or uncoordi-
nated adaptations to water scarcity at home. Twenty-eight per cent of households
store water using different devices. The most common options for storing water are
buckets of 40 to 60 L capacity, followed by barrels of 200 to 250 L capacity. In all
cases, water is mostly allocated for human consumption, cooking, and washing.
As one would expect, the use of storage devices is associated with the reported
average number of hours of piped water by households in each community. Simply
put, as indicated in Table 2, the more unreliable the CWO is on average, the higher
Table 2 Water storage devices
High-performing CWO
(23.5 h average)
Low-performing CWO
(14.2 h average)
Usage (%) Capacity
(avg, l)
Years in use Usage (%) Capacity
(avg, l)
Years in use
 2.27   9.37  
   4.84   
      
      
     222.37 
      - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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October 2019 Waterlines Vol. 38 No. 4
the use of storage devices in that community. The use of storage devices in high-
performing communities can be contradictory but it could be interpreted as a
safety strategy. In fact, 11 per cent of people in these communities reported short
critical periods (around a week) in which the water system breaks down, mostly
due to unpredictable infrastructure damage. In a similar fashion, we found that as
the standard deviation of the average number of hours of water service increases
by community (i.e. the higher the inequality in the distribution of water), the use
of storage devices in the corresponding community is higher. For instance, in the
lower quintile of standard deviation of means (less than 2 hours on average), 20 per
cent of households in these communities use buckets, but in the higher quintile of
standard deviation (5−10 hours on average) the proportion of households increases
up to 44 per cent.
Some of these reactions are also associated more specifically with the generalized
perception of households (83 per cent) that dry seasons in the last five years have
been more intense; that is, warmer and with less precipitation. This has motivated
25 per cent of the people in these households to implement different coping
mechanisms to deal with this situation. It is noteworthy that most of the adaptive
responses (65 per cent) are the use of simple and cheap storage devices, while a
minor proportion have used more expensive options that include building a private
well (3 per cent) or buying a large rooftop storage tank (3 per cent). Even though
we did not explore in-depth the capacities or knowledge of households to adapt,
these numbers could suggest that financial aspects could be important restrictions
for using more sophisticated, and probably more efficient, adaptation alternatives.
On the other hand, when households were asked about their perception of the
intensity of the dry season for the next five years, 60 per cent said that they will
be even more intense, while 16 per cent predict no significant changes and 25 per
cent said they did not know. However, it is interesting to note that within the group
that perceived changes, a vast majority will be much more likely to invest in cheap
storage devices as a coping strategy due to financial restrictions, and only a very
small proportion will invest in private wells or in storage tanks. Once again, from a
policy perspective, another pillar for facilitating adaptation is to ease these financial
restrictions through accessible loans, conditional cash transfers, or other mechanisms
tailored to the local context. Although the actual financial costs of household
adaptation in the study site are probably not as significant as the costs reported
in Nepal (Pattanayak et al. 2005) or Guatemala (Sagüí et al. 2017), these types of
policy interventions could render significant social benefits in terms of reducing the
burden of unreliable water systems and might help complement the efforts made
at the community level to improve the performance of the water system as a whole.
CWOs and households have implemented a variety of defensive measures to deal
with water scarcity. At the collective level, it seems that CWOs have learned that
implementing volumetric pricing is a powerful policy to control demand and to
manage water scarcity. However, the evidence also suggests that pricing schemes are - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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not properly set to recover costs for adequate maintenance and investment in water
infrastructure. Despite the good outcomes of many CWOs, in general these organi-
zations still need to confront the challenge of infrastructure replacement in the
medium and long term. The alarming note here is that many water infrastructure
systems have already reached the end of their lifecycle, making these investments a
matter of immediate importance.
External support seems to be critical for climate change preparedness and for
dealing with different threats centred on increasing water scarcity nowadays.
Nevertheless, the external financial support should be designed carefully to avoid
the tendency to perpetuate the dependency of CWOs on external funds. In this
regard, there should be a further analysis on the convenience of moving from
unconditional subsidies to a long-term integrated approach. It is advisable that
CWOs’ institutional structure evolves to generate incentives to pay for mainte-
nance, replacement, and expansion of water infrastructure. However, the great
challenge of guaranteeing the affordability of the service for local customers
must also be overcome.
Besides improving cost-recovery practices, the variety of financial conditions of
CWOs suggest that there should be accessible credit options for those CWOs in
a better position to acquire loans to finance investments, but there should also
be targeted subsidies for those CWOs in most urgent need. Targeted subsidies
conditioned on some outcomes (e.g. reductions in water losses) could be worth
exploring, particularly for smaller CWOs. These efforts should be accompanied by
reachable opportunities for training in administrative and technical aspects of water
management, as well as the availability of more precise, manageable, and updated
information on how climate change would affect local water systems. All these
aspects should be taken into account for scaling-up the adaptation measures
implemented in our study site to other regions. Furthermore, this approach
should also consider cultural, political, and legal aspects to ensure that it is
locally relevant and with the endorsement of key stakeholders.
CWOs are at the forefront when it comes to implementing strategies for coping
with the predicted impacts of climate change in water systems of rural commu-
nities. Their ability to design and implement strategies to adapt to changes in the
volume, timing, and quality of water depends on their organizational capabilities to
initiate and maintain collective processes in the communities they represent. Given
the longstanding structural problems that create vulnerabilities of the water sector
in Central America to various climatic and non-climatic threats, it is advisable to
devise and implement low-regrets adaptation policies that are applicable, irrespective
of the realization of the predicted impacts of climate change, in a large variety of
contexts. This approach could be an effective strategy for responding simultane-
ously to generic threats to water provision and the longstanding development needs
characterizing most rural areas in this region. Increasing drought preparedness through
the effective implementation of adaptation measures in Central America is a critical
challenge in policy making and research.
The lack of effective adaptation of CWOs to water scarcity would probably lead
to more uncoordinated responses of households through coping mechanisms such - Friday, January 03, 2020 7:29:37 PM - IP Address:
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October 2019 Waterlines Vol. 38 No. 4
as the use of storage devices and additional water sources for daily needs. These
options would entail costs to households due to the time and resources invested
in these activities. These costs and the potential additional costs on health from
accessing poor quality water sources represent the social costs of community failures
to adapt to drier scenarios in existing piped-water systems. The quantification of these
costs should provide important information to governments and donors on the
economic value of supporting community efforts to adapt.
Finally, even though the analysis of past responses to droughts and other
non-climatic threats could shed light on the capacities of communities and house-
holds to respond to future climatic events, future research should contrast the charac-
teristics of the Costa Rican CWOs with those in countries with much lower levels of
performance and in contexts where poverty is more pervasive. Cross-country research
will expose the key differences in management and other contextual characteristics
that might be hindering or facilitating improved delivery of water services in the face
of global change.
Economic support from the International Development Research Center (IDRC),
through the project ‘Communities, water and climate change’ and the Environment
for Development (EfD) Initiative is gratefully acknowledged. We are grateful to
community members for providing information and three anonymous reviewers
for helpful comments and suggestions. All errors and omissions remain the full
responsibility of the authors.
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Objective To understand how, and under what circumstances community participation in water and sanitation interventions impacts the availability of safe water and sanitation, a change in health status or behaviour and the longevity of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) resources and services. Design Realist review. Data sources PubMed, Web of Science and Scopus databases were used to identify papers from low-income and middle-income countries from 2010 to 2020. Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Criteria were developed for papers to be included. The contribution of each paper was assessed based on its relevance and rigour (eg, can it contribute to context, mechanism or outcome, and is the method used to generate that information credible). Analysis Inductive and deductive coding was used to generate context–mechanism–outcome configurations. Results 73 studies conducted in 29 countries were included. We identified five mechanisms that explained the availability, change and longevity outcomes: (1) accountability (policies and procedures to hold communities responsible for their actions and outcomes of an intervention), (2) diffusion (spread of an idea or behaviour by innovators over time through communication among members of a community), (3) market (the interplay between demand and supply of a WASH service or resource), (4) ownership (a sense of possession and control of the WASH service or resource) and (5) shame (a feeling of disgust in one’s behaviour or actions). Contextual elements identified included community leadership and communication, technical skills and knowledge, resource access and dependency, committee activity such as the rules and management plans, location and the level of community participation. Conclusions The findings highlight five key mechanisms impacted by 19 contextual factors that explain the outcomes of community water and sanitation interventions. Policymakers, programme implementers and institutions should consider community dynamics, location, resources, committee activity and practices and nature of community participation, before introducing community water and sanitation interventions.
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The community management model of water supply systems has reached a great number of rural settlements worldwide, especially in developing countries. Its functionality, however, has proven to be a major challenge once the stakeholders responsible for maintaining the service fail to provide the technical, financial, and social resources necessary to secure its sustainability. A number of fragilities are associated with a lack of political recognition of community organizations. In some cases, community organizations have been able to maintain strong recognition in decision-making processes through the establishment of associations involving several community organizations, representing a second organizational level. A third organizational level is achieved once these associations reach an extensive area of a territory. This article conducted four case-studies in Latin America. The study revealed that the emblematic examples according to scientific literature presented the second and, in one case, the third organizational level, while the others, where several weaknesses are noticed, only presented the first level. Although difficulties still exist in every scenario analyzed, our study supports that the presence of the second and third organizational levels are factors that positively contribute to better outcomes from the community management model.
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As water supply in England increasingly faces threats of climate change, urbanisation and population growth, there is an imperative for household water users to be more resilient to extremes such as drought. However, since English water users have not traditionally been involved in drought management, there is need for in-depth understanding of perceptions and intentions towards drought management at a household scale to inform policy approaches. This paper fills this gap by investigating the perceptions and intentions of South West England households towards drought and drought coping. A theoretical framework developed through the lens of protection motivation theory and applying the trans-theoretical model, formed the basis of analysis of a survey administered in two communities in Exeter, England. Results indicated that despite low perceived likelihood and consequences of drought in their local area, participants were willing to implement household drought coping measures. Cluster analyses using a k-means clustering algorithm, found that participants were generally segmented in two typologies at different decision-stages. These decision-stages were defined by the variables perceived drought consequence, coping response efficacy, and behavioural intentions. Decision-stages were identified as contemplative and responsive decision-stages, illustrating willingness and participation in drought coping response at the household level. The importance of applying these psychological paradigms holds value for application in water company market research and policy decision-making in the context of targeted intervention strategies aimed at engendering drought resilient households.
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The objective of this work is to assess the downscaling projections of climate change over Central America at 8-km resolution using the Eta Regional Climate Model, driven by the HadGEM2-ES simulations of RCP4.5 emission scenario. The narrow characteristic of continent supports the use of numerical simulations at very high-horizontal resolution. Prior to assessing climate change, the 30-year baseline period 1961–1990 is evaluated against different sources of observations of precipitation and temperature. The mean seasonal precipitation and temperature distribution show reasonable agreement with observations. Spatial correlation of the Eta, 8-km resolution, simulations against observations show clear advantage over the driver coarse global model simulations. Seasonal cycle of precipitation confirms the added value of the Eta at 8-km over coarser resolution simulations. The Eta simulations show a systematic cold bias in the region. Climate features of the Mid-Summer Drought and the Caribbean Low-Level Jet are well simulated by the Eta model at 8-km resolution. The assessment of the future climate change is based on the 30-year period 2021–2050, under RCP4.5 scenario. Precipitation is generally reduced, in particular during the JJA and SON, the rainy season. Warming is expected over the region, but stronger in the northern portion of the continent. The Mid-Summer Drought may develop in regions that do not occur during the baseline period, and where it occurs the strength may increase in the future scenario. The Caribbean Low-Level Jet shows little change in the future. Extreme temperatures have positive trend within the period 2021–2050, whereas extreme precipitation, measured by R50mm and R90p, shows positive trend in the eastern coast, around Costa Rica, and negative trends in the northern part of the continent. Negative trend in the duration of dry spell, which is an estimate based on evapotranspiration, is projected in most part of the continent. Annual mean water excess has negative trends in most part of the continent, which suggests decreasing water availability in the future scenario.
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Community-based drinking water organizations (CBDWOs) are the most important providers of water in rural areas of the developing world. They are responsible for coping with future threats due to climate change, besides other non-climatic drivers of change such as demographic growth. The inherent capacities of CBDWOs to adapt to external drivers of change would be greatly conditioned by their capacities to initiate and catalyze collective processes. The rich background of CDBWOs’ actual and historical responses to drought phenomena is an essential starting point for understanding both the processes and the limitations of adapting to future adverse climatic events. In this study, we contrast six CBDWOs located in the Costa Rican dry corridor, in order to analyze their ability to self-organize coping with recent annual periodical droughts. We found that CBDWOs implement hard, soft, and ecosystem-based adaptation measures. The decisions in this regard are reactive, tend to follow a sequential order, and are context dependent. One of the main factors that facilitate capital-intensive adaptation measures is the ability of CBDWOs to mobilize internal or external financial resources, which further depends on social capital and the governance structure.
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Community management is the accepted management model for rural water supplies in many low and middleincome countries. However, endemic problems in the sustainability and scalability of this model are leading many to conclude we have reached the limits of an approach that is too reliant on voluntarism and informality. Accepting this criticism but recognising that many cases of success have been reported over the past 30 years, this study systematically reviews and analyses the development pattern of 174 successful community management case studies. The synthesis confirms the premise that for community management to be sustained at scale, community institutions need a 'plus' that includes long-term external support, with the majority of high performing cases involving financial support, technical advice and managerial advice. Internal community characteristics were also found to be influential in terms of success, including collective initiative, strong leadership and institutional transparency. Through a meta-analysis of success in different regions, the paper also indicates an important finding on the direct relationship between success and the prevailing socio-economic wealth in a society. This holds implications for policy and programme design with a need to consider how broad structural conditions may dictate the relative success of different forms of community management.
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This paper analyses the underlying factors affecting people’s satisfaction with drinking water provided by community-based organizations in rural Costa Rica. These organizations provide water to more than 60% of the country’s rural population, but there is great disparity in the quality of water provided. Using a Generalized Ordered Logit regression and data from 41 villages, we studied how characteristics of the water supply infrastructure, the governance structure, and the attributes of local people affect consumers’ perception of water quality at home. We found that size of the infrastructure, downward accountability mechanisms, public disclosure of information, demand responsiveness, as well as the human capital of the members of the local water committee, are the main predictors of the capacity of local organizations to satisfy consumer’s preferences on water quality in rural settings.
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This paper reviews the concept of adaptive capacity and various approaches to assessing it, particularly with respect to climate variability and change. I find that adaptive capacity is a relatively under-researched topic within the sustainability science and global change communities, particularly since it is uniquely positioned to improve linkages between vulnerability and resilience research. I identify opportunities for advancing the measurement and characterization of adaptive capacity by combining insights from both vulnerability and resilience frameworks, and I suggest several assessment approaches for possible future development that draw from both frameworks and focus on analyzing the governance, institutions, and management that have helped foster adaptive capacity in light of recent climatic events.Research highlights► Adaptive capacity is a central, but often overlooked concept within both vulnerability and resilience frameworks. ► Assessments of adaptive capacity that draw from the benefits of both vulnerability and resilience research can serve to advance theory and application within the field of sustainability science. ► Assessments can be improved by examining governance, institutions, and management preparations for and responses to recent climatic events. ► Additional novel approaches need to be considered for measuring and characterizing adaptive capacity.
While the harmful impact of droughts is well-documented in rural areas, how droughts affect cities’ economies remains an open question. Using monthly labor force surveys from 78 cities in Latin America, we demonstrate that large sustained dry events decrease the probability of being employed, hourly wages, hours worked, and labor incomes. Informal workers are impacted the most. We highlight that the impact of droughts is larger than the impact of wet events, like those that cause floods. Health and power outages are two pathways explaining our results. Climate change will increase the occurrence of droughts, making our findings particularly relevant.
Appropriate institutions are essential for climate change adaptation. Yet diverse approaches to institutional analysis are available, encompassing different ontological and epistemological assumptions, and thus yielding insights on very different aspects of institutions in adaptation. Therefore, efforts to expand knowledge in this domain can be usefully informed by an assessment of approaches to institutional analysis in the adaptation literature, which is to date lacking. We address this gap by conducting a systematic review of the adaptation literature addressing institutions. Our review characterises approaches to institutional analysis by identifying methodological choices and the philosophy of science underpinning them. We then analyze the distribution of approaches to institutional analysis across different adaptation situations, contextualizing our results within methodological debates in adaptation research regarding the appropriateness of positivist, interpretative, or post-normal approaches. We find that institutional analysis of adaptation is now engaging with 'how' and 'why' questions, beyond descriptive questions that characterise the adaptation 'barriers' literature, that diverse philosophies of science drive methodological choice, and that post-normal approaches, e.g. co-design approaches, hardly address institutions. We conclude that support for interpretative approaches, and for institutional analysis in post-normal approaches is needed. The latter is important for adaptation planning processes in developing countries under the UNFCCC.