Panamá: Restoration and integrated management in the Zaratí river sub basin (#326)

The area of Zarati river sub basin belongs to important water recharge zones. There is, however, a need to restore the area, which has been susceptible to degradation. Action has been taken in a bottom-up manner, applying Participatory Rural Assessment. Important lessons can be drawn from this in terms of IWRM, as it sets a clear example of active participation of the communities and the local authorities. 


The area of Zarati river sub basin belongs to important water recharge zones that are important for drinking water supply services and rural aqueducts. A program to restore the area was initiated by the government, through the National Environmental Authority, in coordination with the local communities.

Some of activities that are being implemented are environmental investment and businesses, as well as environmentally friendly practices in different productive activities.

Down-top methodologies with a participative approach have been applied. These include Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA) that allows for community empowerment in the process of project execution. The key players have identified the problems, generated possible solutions and action plans.

The action plans were established to preserve and restore the river basin. The project also included campaigns where concrete actions were implemented as a mean to get the support and attract interest in communities. They aimed to demonstrate that aside from preserving and recovering water resources, it is possible to generate income to improve the population welfare. The implemented practices, such as installation of anaerobic digesters, manifested to pollution reduction.

Lessons learned

Through strengthening of the existing social organizations, as well as attitude changes towards the subject of local environment, it has been possible to implement ecosystem recovery processes through the restoration of degraded areas.

Importance of the case for IWRM

This case is important for IWRM since it deals with the active participation of the communities and the local authorities. The program shows a successful implementation of tools of IWRM, namely those regarding empowerment in civil society. 

Photo credit: Rictor Norton & David Allen