Case area in Costa Rica: The Terraba River basin


The hydrographic Terraba river basin is located in the south Pacific of Costa Rica, close to the Panama border. It is 5000sq m which represent near 10% of the territory of Costa Rica. The annual precipitation is abundant and it varies geographically. To the south this precipitation represents 2000mm and it reaches 5600mm in the north and middle section. This situation provokes mudslides along the river banks. Besides, this abundant precipitation allows a highly potential hydroelectric generation and drinking water supply.

The Terraba Riverbasin is divided into 26 districts which belong to the following 4 cantones (political territorial divisions): Pérez Zeledón, Buenos Aires, Coto Brus, and Osa. In this mosaic of administrative micro-unities there exists one of the most particular characteristics of the river basin: several social groups with different cultural patterns. Particular emphasis is put in the indigenous groups of the territory. There are five indigenous ethnic groups located in different seven reserves: Ujarrás, Salitre, Cabagra, Térraba, Boruca 1, Rey Curré y Guaymíes. These indigenous territories represent one third of the native communities in the country. These communities are scattered all over the basin and their territories cover 1020km (637,5miles) which represent 20% of the whole hydrographic system. These social groups are threatened by the possibility of a dam construction. According to current projections, rey Curré would be the most affected community. It is important to point out that near 136sq km will be flooded. As a result, the flooding may cause a population movement and loss of infrastructure as well as an impact on natural resources mainly in the Térraba-Sierpe Wetland which is the most important due to its extension in the Central America Pacific. The area is characterized for both environmental and cultural richness combine with poverty and environmental degradation. The environmental riches are mostly guarded by the national parks around the basin such as the Chirripó National Park, Corcovado National Park, Piedras Blancas National Park, Marino Ballena Park, Caño Island Biological Reserve, and La Amistad International Park. This last park is shared by Costa Rica and Panama. However; the unprotected wooded areas in the basin are threatened by the indiscriminating tree cutting to give space to agricultural soil.

The first human settlements in the basin, according to archaeological evidence, were there between 800 and 1500 A.C. with a specialized agricultural cacique life. The current archaeological heritage and the cultural richness contrast with the low indexes of human development in the area. While in Costa Rica the illiterate population is near 5%, it reaches almost 9% of the population in three cantons of the basin. Furthermore, most of the basin territory is in the Brunca Region, the second poorest region with 32.8% of poor households. More important, this is one of the two regions of Costa Rica showing an increase in poor households (Costa Rican Household Survey, 2006). These communities survive due to the agricultural and livestock exploitation while the ones down the basin, in the Térraba-Sierpe Wetland, fishing and tourism are the most significant economical activities.

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