Kevin McCray, CEO of NGWA, just informed me of this paper published by Thomas LaVanchy in the Elsevier journal Annals of Tourism Research, Vol 64, May 2017, pp. 37-50 [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2017.02.006]
When Wells Run Dry: Water and Tourism in Nicaragua.
This article uses a political ecology approach to examine the relationship between tourism and groundwater in southwest Nicaragua. Tourism remains a growing industry; however, adequate provisions of freshwater are necessary to sustain the production and reproduction of tourism and it remains uncertain if groundwater supplies can keep pace with demand. Integrating the findings of groundwater monitoring, geological mapping, and ethnographic and survey research from a representative stretch of Pacific coastline, this paper shows that diminishing recharge and increased groundwater consumption is creating a conflict between stakeholders with various levels of knowledge, power, and access. It concludes that marginalization is attributable to the nexus of a political promotion of tourism, poorly enforced state water policies, insufficient water research, and climatic variability.
This paper traced the global growth of tourism to the local context of Gigante, where all users are reliant on groundwater. Although southwest Nicaragua receives more precipitation than other global high-density tourist destinations, its complex geology quite often limits the full usage of precipitation as recharge. Declining water tables over the past four years consti- tute an important signal that water abstraction is exceeding aquifer(s) capacity. The ensuing struggles over water and their unequal outcomes are the result of unsustainable tourism development, recent drought, and unsupported water laws and policy. These struggles were captured through a political ecology lens that scrutinized linkages between politics, economics, and ecology. Following in the steps of Stonich (1998), Gössling (2001), and Cole (2012,2014), the paper makes a valuable contribution to the gap in research on the tourism-water nexus. Further, it contributes to general political ecology literature by offering rigorous ecological knowledge in its assessment and counters assertions from Bassett and Zimmerer that the field of political ecology is essentially ‘‘politics with ecology” (2004, p. 103).
Several conclusions for tourism developers and policy makers can be drawn from the details of this research. First, tour- ism is expected to grow at a global level and in emerging destinations such as Nicaragua. Economic challenges facing Nicar- agua has led to a prioritizing of tourism to generate jobs and economic growth. This puts Nicaragua into the political economy of tourism, thereby subjecting itself to the demands of global capitalistic markets and normative expectations of tourism. The tourism literature shows that arrivals from ‘developed’ countries use a much larger percentage of water than local users, resulting in a strain on local populations and environments in water scarce settings. It is evident that tourism is already impacting water resources in the Gigante area. This pressure on groundwater is anticipated to increase given recent advertising for this area of Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast in prominent international surf, outdoor, golfing, inflight magazines, and travel sections of newspapers like the New York Times. Its appeal as an ‘‘undiscovered luxury beach destination for billion- aires and celebrities” (Dobson, 2015) is further enhanced by the opening of a new regional airport able to accommodate Gulf- stream jets. This increased visibility and accessibility will likely translate to increased tourism visits and an array of interest in growing tourism development.
Second, this study provides physical evidence of a water crisis as local consumption has outpaced supply. Tourism driven groundwater abstraction and diminished rainfall in four of the past six years has resulted in lowered groundwater tables and in some cases seawater contamination. Although the national water law requires a water budget for each water basin, none have been completed to date and virtually no technical information exists to inform sustainable abstraction rates.
Finally, this study concludes that the gap between national water policy and implementation has opened the door for water ‘grabbing’ by those with power, whereby the poor are marginalized through lack of access, or control of the benefits of water. When wells run dry, or become contaminated, local populations must walk further to wells with sufficient water supply. This compounding of work for daily water needs inevitably leads to greater cost, or diminished use of water and sub- sequent potential health risks. Further, accessing reliable sources of groundwater adds considerable stress and expenses for tourism enterprises using deeper and often distant wells to meet their ever-growing demands. The success of these businesses, reliant upon steady water supply, has direct implications on jobs and livelihoods for local populations. Until water budgets are proposed for water basins, poor water management by tourism operators may result in the failure of their oper-ations and simultaneously the creation of a class of losers—the original and less powerful members of this coastal community.
Very thoughtful. Enjoy!
"There's nobody can prevent you getting into heaven, but there are many always ready to give you a shove into hell." - Nicaraguan proverb