In northwest Honduras, community-based interventions by outside development agencies seeking to assist communities with the treatment and delivery of potable water have been largely ineffective. This article examines the social, economic, ecological, and engineered contexts of gravity-fed water systems in the Palmarejo Valley of this region, identifying key barriers to long-term sustainability. Drawing from the results of our mixed-methods research in the valley incorporating ethnographic and spatial analyses along with water quality testing, we outline the limitations of community-based development approaches that ignore the broader social and political scales of resource inequalities. We find that water provisioning often requires coordination of activities at broader sociospatial and sociopolitical scales, which implicate the involvement of multiple communities with competing interests, variable power, and divergent claims on resources. We argue that community-scaled approaches to intervention are unable to mitigate the pressures on water resources that emerge in and extend to other scales, because they cannot adequately recognize and attend to cross-scale dynamics. We propose that development planning agencies may find more sustainable solutions to water resource challenges if communities are recognized as historically changing networks of actors and institutions operating according to diverse motivations and desires.



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