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Mitigating Drought and Climate Change in Guatemala

The Role of Direct Funding to Local Agencies


CRGR, a regional coalition of NGOs from four countries

COCIGER, the Guatemalan member of CRGR, itself a coalition of seven NGOs and two universities   

ASEDE, a Guatemalan NGO responding to drought as a member of COCIGER

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a donor seeking innovative ways to support local humanitarian response

Local actors

The Community Development Council in Pasaco, Jutiapa

COMUSAN, the Municipal Commission for Food Security and Nutrition

Success factors

Regional and national coalitions allow greater visibility of local NGOs to international donors and greater capacity to address needs across the region

A donor committed to localisation, with the flexibility to support a dedicated capacity-building budget for local NGOs and their coalitions

Financing has become central to ongoing debates around the localisation of humanitarian aid. There is intense discussion about the 25 percent of direct funding to local actors pledged in the Grand Bargain and arguments about how to define ‘direct’. However, for local agencies the quality of the funding they receive is as important as how much they receive, yet this is often overlooked in this discussion. Quality relates to how projects are developed and any constraints on the support local agencies receive. In this context, direct funding is valued because local actors are more able to control how it is spent than when they are subcontracting for an international agency.  

In a ‘dry corridor’ across Central America, as in many parts of the world, climate change has been making agriculture more challenging in recent years. This region traverses Guatemala, Nicaragua, western El Salvador and northern Honduras.

Since 2012 in southern Guatemala weak rains have been insufficient to sustain traditional production. Staples such as corn and beans have not grown properly due to a lack of water. This trend continued in the summer of 2018, with a heat wave that put more than 2 million people in the region at risk of food insecurity. The decrease in production ranged from 20 percent to a complete loss of crops.

Guatemala has the fourth-highest level of chronic malnutrition in the world, with half of all children stunted due to chronic food insecurity. Additional shocks can be catastrophic. Extreme poverty is reinforced by marginalisation with a majority of the indigenous community chronically malnourished. The situation in areas of southern Guatemala like Jutiapa has been severe, with many reports of deaths and a government response that has been partial and politicised. 

Local and regional partners

The humanitarian community in Central America has emphasised that the region is at risk from climate change, and promoted a regional response to a regional disaster. The Drought Response in the Central American Dry Corridor project emerged from 15 years of network building across national and regional forums.

The Concertacion Regional para la Gestion de Riesgos (Regional Forum for Risk Management, or CRGR) is a four-country coalition that reduces vulnerability and coordinates humanitarian action in the region. It is composed of national networks of NGOs from each of the four countries, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Convergencia Cidudana para la Gestion de Riesgo (Citizen’s Forum for Risk Management or COCIGER) is a Guatemalan network of eight NGOs and two universities. Members share a united aim of reducing economic, environmental, political and social vulnerability.

These national and regional partnerships make local agencies more visible to international donors and enable a coherent transnational response.

The project emerged after Oxfam introduced CRGR to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation funded the regional network in 2011 and assigned Oxfam a companion and support role. This highlights how innovative relationships between international and local agencies can reshape the traditional ‘implementing partner’ status of local NGOs. Once the Gates Foundation saw that the networks and their constituent NGOs could manage the project independently, the Oxfam supervisory role was abandoned.

The project was designed to address technical goals, and to create capacities in the NGOs and networks involved. Another objective was to allow the Gates Foundation to understand the capacities of CRGR and the national networks. In 2014 a second three-year phase began. The explicit goal of that phase was to make CRGR sustainable and self-sufficient. This demonstrated the commitment of the Gates Foundation to long-term capacity building in the region and to empowering local actors. This relationship included a number of emergency responses, among them the 2012 and 2014 earthquakes and the drought response.

Both CRGR and the national networks are a collection of Central American humanitarian NGOs rather than centralised organisations. This meant they could not receive support directly from the Gates Foundation. Instead, individual NGOs that did have accountable structures were the conduit for funds. In Guatemala, the NGO Asociación Para La Educación y El Desarrollo (the Association for Education and Development, or ASEDE) took this role for COCIGER. COCIGER first demanded that ASEDE be certified by the Gates Foundation administratively and legally. 

The action

The municipality of Pasaco in Guatemala’s Jutiapa department lies near the Pacific Ocean on the border with El Salvador. Farming is a way of life for the people of this municipality, but the drought has devastated their livelihood.

Dona Mara is the President of the Community Development Council in the area, a representative but informal body recognised by the municipality. She described how in May 2018 farmers planted seeds as usual, expecting rain in June, but none came. As a result, their crops were almost entirely lost, reducing people to a hand-to-mouth existence and some having no food at all.

“Some old people died, but the biggest problem was malnutrition, which is still present today. Babies and toddlers were most affected,” Dona Mara explained.

Mildred and Mirna, both single mothers, explained that their land was giving them no food at all before the project started. Mildred was doing domestic work to feed her children, while Mirna’s mother was working and earning just enough to feed the family.   

The regional Drought Response in the Central American Dry Corridor project strengthened the resilience of affected populations to drought and climate change. COCIGER led the project in Guatemala, with ASEDE implementing in some areas and other NGO members elsewhere. La Comisión Municipal de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutriciona (the Municipal Commission for Food Security and Nutrition, or COMUSAN) selected the communities to participate in the project. COMUSAN includes both community leaders and the Mayor. The Community Development Council – in particular Dona Mara - acted as an interface between ASEDE and the community in Pasaco. The Community Development Council used their local presence and the trust they enjoy to convince community members to use the project resources.

ASEDE had studied the impact of the drought and the needs of community members. They asked the Council to select families in greatest need, targeting the extremely poor, single mothers and the elderly. ASEDE provided those families with food kits and chicks as an emergency response. Later they provided laying hens as an additional food source and a potential income stream. ASEDE also trained the community to identify malnutrition so that parents could take children to be weighed at the health centre and supported.

The project incorporated several longer-term initiatives to build drought resilience in the selected households. These included vaccinating the chicks, training people to use water more effectively through drip irrigation and distributing drought-resistant seeds.

The small, dispersed plots that most households farmed were not optimal for drip irrigation. Dona Mara provided a plot of land so that the households could work in groups and apply the project resources more effectively. She also provided a tank to store water that was pumped from a nearby river to supply the drip irrigation. 

Dona Mara described the project as having “a huge impact in the community”. Single mother Mildred said: “We took from the harvest vegetables that we could both eat and sell, and a bag of corn. It was a huge benefit for the family.” She also now has six chickens that lay 10 eggs a day.

Dona Mara said that the biggest impact was that the community now works as a group to advance the interests of the village. She believes that is because they organised the response work themselves. They have also learned how to tackle the effects of climate change by planting trees to give shade and protect the topsoil. As a result of the ASEDE-led project, the community is now developing a separate project: they have seen that they can make a change as a community.

An important element of the project was training community bodies in risk management. This enabled them to participate in both national and regional forums. It encouraged those most affected to represent themselves and to articulate the vulnerability of citizens in affected areas.

Community members knew little about climate change. In some cases, they blamed the drought on their own farming practices, including the tradition of burning fields after the harvest. Although experts from ASEDE had discussed climate change with the municipality, community members understood that if they wanted to change things, they would have to do it themselves.

Dona Mara has visited El Salvador to benefit from that country’s experience and her husband has attended national meetings. With ASEDE’s support they are proposing changes in the law that governs Guatemala’s emergency response institution, Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres (National Forum for Disaster Reduction, or CONRED). Their proposal is based on what they learned from its failure to help them.


The Guatemalan project combines a local response from national NGOs with international donor resources. A local NGO is more likely than an international actor to win the trust of the community, so Guatemalan agencies needed to do the work on the ground. The classic ‘implementation partner’ model often requires local actors to execute the plans of internationals. The direct funding of the regional and national coalitions, CRGR and COCIGER, put local NGOs in charge, designing and implementing projects that take advantage of their local knowledge.  

The project funding was possible only because a donor, the Gates Foundation, was willing to fund long-term capacity building as well as project implementation, and the regional coalition, CRGR, permitted a response simultaneously locally-driven but addressing the entire region.  The locally-led approach depended on the Gates Foundation’s commitment to localisation. Such commitment is demonstrated by the fact that 30 percent of their emergency response budget is devoted to capacity building. As a result, they could fund CRGR regional assemblies and the organisational support necessary over several years for the coalition to manage funds and projects effectively.

Pilar Pacheco from the Gates Foundation emphasised that the regional coalition enabled better capacity to manage funds and respond effectively to emergencies, giving local agencies a voice. The project demonstrates that localisation of humanitarian action doesn’t just require competent local responders. It also requires enlightened donors who see the value of long-term support to such actors.

Produced with the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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