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Project Summary

Climate change is increasing the need for water governance measures in drought-prone areas. Our previous Newton project (see here) focused on understanding the diverse effects of climate change co-developing mitigation and adaptation strategies with local communities (including residents, government institutions and civic organisations) in Puebla, where access to water in San Andrés Cholula was revealed to be unequal, insufficient, and of poor quality. Thus, a major priority articulated by these communities was the urgent need for water security and improved water governance. Water security indicators exist at the municipal level, but not for basins. 


In this project we will develop water security indicators and assess how these may be adapted in relevant future scenarios, and  deliver impact based on the insights generated by the previous research in the Upper Atoyac River Basin (UARB) by conducting a broader range of stakeholder consultations to co-develop, test, and implement policies for improved water security. We now focus on the whole basin, involving a wider range of data to enable long-term water security that will result in better-managed and more sustainable water resources for the entire basin. Lead researchers at the UK institution (UoE) bring expertise relating to co-production of the built environment, planning, equity, business, management and climate change. Partner institutions in Mexico (Iberoamericana Puebla & UDLAP) bring the necessary physical science and local technological expertise to develop water security indicators and how these may be adapted in relevant future scenarios. Building from the collaborative work generated by the Newton grant, the proposed research will lead to a white policy paper on the implementation of water governance in peri-urban and rural areas that depend on water for irrigation, production and livelihoods, thereby building resilience and security in the face of climate change impacts. The involvement of our in-country partner CONCYTEP ensures that policy recommendations will be relevant for, and trusted in, the local context. Outputs from this work will be transferable to many Global South contexts, where impacts of climate change are increasing human vulnerability in rural and rapidly urbanising communities.

The UK team will provide expertise in strategies for co-producing the built environment with skills in planning, social equity, business and climate change, leading on the identification of perceived risks among stakeholders, to identify actions and adaptation strategies. The Mexico team will provide science and technology expertise to develop a global indicator of water security comprised of three indices: scarcity, quality & vulnerability, and scenarios for the UARB.


  1. Systematise communities' perceptions of and needs for, water security

  2. Identify climate change impacts for the region, as experienced by its stakeholders

  3. Determine and estimate relevant water security indicators throughout the UARB basin

  4. Determine likely trajectories of the water security indicators in the basin

  5. Identify current institutional and bottom-up strategies for water security in the basin

  6. Understand risks in vulnerable communities in the area and the potential role of private and public sector organisations for mitigation opportunities

  7. Identify and test achievable water governance measures that will lead to increased water security in the basin, through pilot studies and with a methodological approach rooted in co-production with the local community, other stakeholders & CONCYTEP (key local partner)

  8. Bring together the results of the co-production process and the identified water security strategies in a policy white paper targeted at local authorities



1. A research programme composed of literature reviews, interviews, stakeholder workshops, technical appraisals and pilot studies in the UARB, carried out in partnership with organisations in Mexico & UK, with 4 work packages: ​


(a) water security policy and practice review – this will be developed in collaboration between the academic institutions, with RAs contributing to local/national and international reviews.


(b) peri-urban and rural area water security challenges and strategies that consider the social, environmental, urban planning and decision-making context – this will be led by Garcia Ferrari & Morales and conducted through stakeholder interviews, workshops and focus groups.


(c) water security analysis, indicators and pilot studies with a technical review of the UARB conditions & adaptation capacity – this will be led by Ibarrarán & Martinez through technical data gathering and analysis.


(d) policy recommendations for improved water governance – this will be led by Kaesehage & Pérez on the interpretation of the data obtained through all WPs into policy recommendations aimed at improving water governance.


2. A knowledge exchange and training programme based on the research and white policy paper, open to Mexican and UK practitioners, policymakers, academics and students, aimed at increasing resilience through water security in the region; delivered through 3 workshops in Mexico led by PIs in association with leaders in each theme, and through the final conference of the project in the UK. 



The multi-stakeholder workshops conducted as part of our previous Newton research identified water governance and the need for increased water security as key sources of communities' perceived vulnerability and associated conflicts in Puebla, in the context of climate change impacts. Access to water was revealed to be unequal, insufficient, and of poor quality. In addition, sprawling urban development and the San Andrés Cholula urban development plan were identified as key threats to water security in the Atoyac basin. If unaddressed, existing water governance tensions may be exacerbated, further increasing vulnerability. If addressed, this new development represents an opportunity to provide solutions for one of the most important local stakeholder needs, therefore the proposed research aims to increase policy impacts and user engagement in the process of achieving water security.


Through generating trust and commitment from local organisations and communities, our previous Newton research identified a knowledge gap, and the proposed project will build on this through the development of informed indicators. These will have real impact in policymaking and stakeholder participation, drawing on our previous findings, which identified that 'smart' decision making should not only be rooted in public participation but also in informed public action with a long-term vision. Communities in San Andrés Cholula perceive that urban development strategies were the main driver for water pollution, water scarcity and water management. The urban planning process is perceived as affecting their everyday lives, economic activities and the preservation of their heritage, as well as green and agricultural land.


The proposed research seeks to deliver solutions and impact relating to these challenges, which are common to other regions throughout the Atoyac basin. This will be achieved through a series of community-stakeholder workshops, maintaining the successful format of the previous research, but now focusing on the specific topic of water security and governance to identify solutions that enable more equitable water access within new development schemes. A key contribution is the identification of water security indicators throughout the UARB and their evolution under climate change impacts, to identify the specific areas in the region where additional efforts towards building resilient strategies to attain water security should be focused. Stakeholder workshops will also identify the role that private and public sector organisations could play in implementing and monitoring such measures.


These recommendations will be presented in the form of a white policy paper to aid local authorities in the urban planning stages of Cholula and other areas of the Atoyac basin. The proposed research will therefore directly contribute to building more equitable and resilient communities with respect to the most relevant impacts of climate change, identified in the previous research.

Key stakeholders

The municipal governments of San Andrés Cholula and Puebla, the State Government of Puebla, NGOs (i.e. Centro Fray Julián Garcés de Derechos Humanos & Dale la Cara al Atoyac), water management authorities, CONCYTEP, and Canacintra as industry partner.


Puebla, Mexico


University of Edinburgh

Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla

Universidad de las Americas de Puebla



UK Research Team

Dr Soledad Garcia-Ferrari

Dr Kathi Kaesehage

Dr Amelia Bain

Mexico Research Team

Dr Maria Eugenia Ibarraran (Ibero)

Dr Emma Morales (Ibero) 

Gabriela Perez (Ibero)

Valentina Campos (Ibero) 

Jeronimo Chavarria Hernandez (Ibero) 

Carlos Patino (UDLAP) 

Romeo Saldaña (Ibero) 

Polioptro Martinez (UDLAP)

Funding Body

Newton Fund Impact Scheme



Our research project has been showcased in the following UKCDR publication:

Screenshot 2021-06-08 at 10.28.27.png
Climate Change Policies for People: Implementing Co-Developed Water Governance and Security in the Upper Atoyac River Basin, Puebla
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