The Case of the Trifinio Plan in the Upper Lempa: Opportunities and Challenges for the Shared Management of Central American Transnational Basins


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Publication Title

The Case of the Trifinio Plan in the Upper Lempa: Opportunities and Challenges for the Shared Management of Central American Transnational Basins

Publication Type

UNESCO-IHP, PCCP Series Publication, 13 p.


Raùl Artiga

Publication Date


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The upper watershed of the Lempa River is shared by Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, as outlined in the Trifinio Plan. Its management represents a novel experience for Central America. It reveals the advances made in the management of the natural resources of a trans-national watershed, through the political will of the countries at the highest level of authority. This political will has been institutionalized through the adoption of an international treaty, making way for a new form of organizational management. The watershed was, however, considered from a territorial planning perspective, rather than one of water management. At the same time, the Trifinio experience also makes evident the limits to processes that are stimulated from above and therefore not accompanied by strategies designed by the local actors. It is indeed the support of local actors that can ensure the backing necessary for guaranteeing the functioning and sustainability of long-term actions.

Lessons Learned

1. The case reveals that in order to advance towards the integrated management of the hydrological resources of trans-national watersheds in Central America, what is very much needed is the political will (at the uppermost levels) of the participating countries.

2. The need to establish common institutional frameworks for managing the territory of the shared watershed.

3. The need for coordinated mechanisms for information gathering, conceptualization, and interventions.

4. The need for efficient mechanisms for ensuring local participation throughout the process – from planning to decision making and carrying out actions.

5. To invest in processes of building up local capacities associated with the management of natural resources.

6. Reflected in this case are a series of limitations related to the lack of efficiency and sustainability of actions that are planned from the top down, as well as a centralized approach to management in which resources have been exhausted in carrying out actions by the ministries involved.

7. Interventions with traditionally predominant protectionists do not allow for advancement towards a natural resources management in the way that they could if they stemmed from an integrated management of watersheds.

8. The limitations of merely incorporating risk and vulnerability management, as associated with land use and flooding, into the management of a shared watershed.

9. The Trifinio Commission is not financially viable and has not achieved the establishment of its own coordinating inter-sectoral planning mechanism among local institutions, municipalities, environmental funds, and the private sector.

Relevance of the Case for the Integrated Management of Hydrological Resources

This case reflects the importance of political will for advancing the building of frameworks for institutional trans-national watersheds. At the same time, it also reveals the obstacles in the transition from those processes that are stimulated by a top-down approach towards a process involving strategies arising from the local actors. Strategies by local actors inherently lend the necessary support to the functioning and sustainability of actions, and in the long run tend towards the integrated management of trans-national watershed hydrological resources. Finally, the case reveals the predominant focus to be on natural resource management for watersheds on behalf of the principal actors of participating institutions within the region, rather than integrated management of water.


  • Central American Integration Secretariat. 1998. Action Plan for the Integrated Management of Central American Hydric Resources.
  • Central American Integration Secretariat. 2000. Central American Plan for the Integrated Management and the Conservation of Water Resources.
  • Gómez, I. 2002. Formas de gestión y uso de recursos en la cuenca del río Paz en El Salvador (Forms of management and use of resources of El Salvador’s Peace River watershed). Working paper. PRISMA, San Salvador.
  • Inter-American Development Bank. 2002. Tri-national Program for the Sustainable Development of the Upper Lempa River Basin.
  • Mestres, E. (2002). Bases para la creación de estructuras organizacionales por cuenca y arreglos institucionales y jurídicos para la gestión de cuencas transfronterizas y fronterizas en la República de El Salvador. El Caso de la Cuenca del Río Paz (Bases for the creation of organizational structures of watersheds and legal and institutional regulations for the management of trans-national watersheds in the Republic of El Salvador. The Case of The Peace River Watershed). EHP project for the Formulation of the National Directorates for the Conformation of the Watershed Organizations of the Republic of El Salvador.
  • Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission. 1999a. Treaty between the Republics of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for carrying out the Trifinio Plan.
  • Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission. 1999b. 1998 Annual Report: Trifinio Regional Development Pilot Project. Project ALA 88/14.
  • Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission. 2000a. Approval of Regulations for the Trifinio Plan’s Consultation Committee. Resolution no. TR 9–2000.
  • Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission. 2000b. Approval of Regulations for the Tri-national Trifinio Plan Executive Secretariat. Resolution no. TR 8–2000.
  • Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission. 2000c. Moments from the Workshop on Setting up the Consulting Committee. Esquipulas, November 25 and 26 1999.
  • Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission. 2000d. Por un Esfuerzo Conjunto de los Gobiernos de El Salvador, Guatemala y Honduras, para el Desarrollo Armónico y Equilibrado de la Región Fronteriza de los Tres Países (For a joint effort among the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, for the balanced and harmonic development of the region’s trinational area). Joint Declaration made by the Tri-national Trifinio Plan Commission.


  • Danilo Bueso Fiallos, Former Executive Secretary, Tri-National Trifinio Plan Commission.
  • Hernán Romero Chavaría and Daniel Oberti, Representatives of BID-El Salvador.
  • Juan Carlos Montufar, Coordinator of the Trifinio Plan’s Technical Unit, Guatemala.
  • Miguel Sandoval, Coordinator of the Trifinio Plan office in Metapán-El Salvador.
  • Héctor Arita, Coordinator of the Trifinio Plan office in Ocotepeque-Honduras.
  • Esperanza de Rivas, Assistant to the Vice-Presidency, El Salvador.
  • Giancarlo Angelucci, Private Secretary, Vice-Presidency, El Salvador, and National Director of the Trifinio Plan.
  • Julian Muñoz Jiménez, Representative for the Vice-Presidency of Guatemala and National Sub- Director of the Trifinio Plan.
  • Reginaldo Salazar, President of ATRIDEST, El Salvador.
  • Fernando Moreira, President of ATRIDEST, Honduras.

See also

External Resources


 PCCP Lempa River case study.pdf

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