Author(s): Martin Albrecht

Operationalizing Bolivia’s climate resilience through integrated river basin management in three subbasins of the Rio Grande

Source(s): World Bank, the
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Bolivia improved its development of guidelines, planning instruments, and interoperability protocols and successfully implemented a new integrated river basin management approach in three pilot subbasins of the Rio Grande basin. The improved hydrometeorological forecasting, together with flood management and irrigation infrastructure, now benefit over 6,500 families across the basin, protecting them from droughts and floods.


In Bolivia, droughts and floods jeopardize the fight against poverty. Climate change—through effects including accelerated glacier melt, changing precipitation patterns, and increased drought—increases water scarcity in some river basins, affecting water availability for drinking, agriculture, hydropower, mining, industries, and ecosystems. The negative impact of these trends on the economy, the ecosystem, and human livelihoods and well-being is already being felt, particularly among vulnerable groups such as the poor, women, children, and the elderly.


The Bolivia Climate Resilience - Integrated Basin Management Project, the first large climate change project in Bolivia financed by the World Bank, aimed to turn climate-smart, integrated river basin management theory into practice.

The project focused on strengthening institutional capacity and ensuring timely and reliable hydrometeorological data and forecasts by establishing a National Climate and Water Information System and by integrating climate change adaptation into planning and investment tools. The development of a National Drought Monitor was added to the project after severe droughts hit the country in 2016. The newly developed integrated river basin planning methodology was piloted in three subbasins (Mizque, Rocha, and Arque-Tapacarí) of the Rio Grande river basin and included subprojects designed and implemented to enhance climate resilience in those subbasins.


Between 2014 and 2020, the project supported the following key results:

  • A climate resilience strategic program was adopted and operationalized that included developing actionable guidelines, planning instruments, and protocols for relevant government agencies to integrate climate change adaptation into their work. Pilots in three subbasins demonstrated the usefulness and effectiveness of the underlying methodology and guidelines developed for the project, smoothing the way for adoption in other locations.
  • Fifty-five additional hydrometeorological data stations were financed and installed. Together with inter-agency data exchange and coordination agreements, these have strengthened forecasting and modelling capabilities for more accurate sector planning.
  • Financing for 61infrastructure and river basin management subprojects in three pilot subbasins has benefited more than 6,500 families. Specifically:
    • Nineteen subprojects, covering 1,034.4 hectares, developed irrigation and drainage systems.
    • Twenty-five subprojects, covering 988.45 hectares, protect areas from erosion.
    • Seventeen subprojects equipped 17,313.16 meters of waterways with flood protection infrastructure.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank, through the Climate Investment Funds’ Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), provided US$45.5 million (US$36 million as a concessional loan and US$9.5 million as a grant) to finance this project. The US$1.2 billion PPCR supports developing countries and regions in building their adaptation and resilience to the impacts of climate change. First, the PPCR assists governments in integrating climate resilience into strategic development planning across sectors and stakeholder groups. Second, it provides concessional and grant funding to put those plans into action and pilot innovative public and private sector solutions.


A strong partnership exists among key development partners in Bolivia’s water sector. Periodic meetings led by the Ministry of Water and Environment helped coordinate investments and analytical work. While the Inter-American Development Bank financed the implementation of a pilot project to improve climate resilience of the city of La Paz–El Alto, the World Bank supported implementation of three pilots in the Rio Grande basin as well as the capacity building of key national and subnational level institutions. The World Bank coordinated related activities with the German Corporation for International Cooperation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Swiss Cooperation Agency. Further, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency helped with activities related to water quality control in the Rocha subbasin.


“The project constructed cement walls at both sides of the Cárcel Mayu river to protect communities and agricultural fields. For many years, the area suffered from floods. With these walls, we will be able to protect our properties, homes and farmers.”
— Cecilio Paniagua, Organización de la Gestión de Cuencas de la Comunidad Cárcel Mayu, Municipio de Capinota

Small rural villages in the upper areas of the watershed are considered to be among those most likely to experience the effects of projected future climate change scenarios. Higher intensity rainfall, increased erosion, and interrupted water availability will increase the cost and effort required to maintain the scarce land and its resources. To increase the communities´ resilience, the project introduced micro-watershed management practices ranging from reforestation to small water storage systems. In urban areas of the basin, flood defenses and irrigation infrastructure increased the resilience of families suffering under too much or too little water.

Moving Forward

Adoption of the new Integrated River Basin Methodology, with its mandated national application, is set to be formalized through a Ministerial Resolution by the Ministry of Water and Environment. Several development partners, such as the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), have already applied the new methodology in their respective projects.

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Hazards Drought Flood
Country and region Bolivia, Plurinational State of
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