The World Bank/WBIs CBNRM Initiative

Case Received: February 6, 1998

Author: Gonzalo Bravo Vera

Fax: +52 16 292397


Border Environment Cooperation Commission

The BECC was established in November 1993 in the context of the parallel agreements under the Free Trade Treaty. It is a binational agency set up by the Mexican and United States governments to identify, evaluate and certify environmental infrastructure projects within a broad process of community participation. It works in the border strip which extends 100 kilometers to the north and 100 kilometers to the south of the border between Mexico and the United States. Its priority action areas are drinking water, sewerage, sanitation and municipal solid-waste management.

The BECC constitutes an innovative approach that promotes the development of the border strip, strengthens cooperation between the two countries and serves to bring the border societies closer together. The BECC works directly with the communities, from the identification of needs to coordinated action for meeting these needs, through the implementation of infrastructure projects that are technically and financially feasible, sustainable and supported by the majority of the population.

The commission coordinates its work with various institutions of the three levels of government of the two countries, mainly SEMARNAP (the Mexican Secretariat of Environment, Natural Resources and Fishery), the National Water Commission, SEDESOL, EPA, the two sections of the CILA, the Banco de Desarrollo de América del Norte (BDAN), and the state and municipal governments and water supply system operators.

With this coordination work, the BECC reports significant progress benefiting the Mexico-United States border region, with 19 projects on both sides of the border (ten of them in the Mexican side and nine on the U.S. side, at an estimated cost of US$340 million and benefiting some 6.4 million people.

One of the commission's most important achievements is the public process involved in both the definition and implementation of rules and procedures and the provision of information and promotion work done directly in the communities where projects considered for certification are located.

Through this public process the commission carries out its work in a close and direct relationship with the communities, which are guaranteed their say and see their infrastructure needs being met.

The social validation is central to the certification given by the BECC for the projects considered. This certification means that the projects can be financed by the BDAN or by any other financial institution. This criterion has to be met and it is a requirement for certification that the communities have had significant and sufficient input so that their acceptance of the projects is assured.

The certification done by the BECC is innovative in the way the commission works directly with the border communities and in the community participation process involved, which also strengthens projects' sustainability.

The BECC, with its headquarters in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and its sister institution the BDAN, based in San Antonio, Texas, constitutes a new approach to promoting development and project financing in the border strip.

Case Identification

More than 10 million people live along the Mexico-U.S. border, 30% of whom lack basic drinking water, drainage, sanitation and solid-waste management and disposal services.

This border population is expected to double over 20 years, which will increase the infrastructure needs. It is estimated that US$8-10 billion will be needed in the next ten years to take care of the present needs.

In 36 months of operation, the BECC has visited more than 60 municipalities to find out about their environmental problems and needs and to assess solutions, in coordination with federal, state and municipal authorities and private promoters.

Problems In the United States:

Water Supply and Sewage Treatment

The majority of the U.S. border communities have drinking water services, although these require rehabilitation and expansion to cope with population growth and meet environmental standards. Some communities need new systems because of lack of maintenance and of access to capital. However, it is estimated that there are around 400,000 people living along the U.S. side of the border in the so-called "colonias" or "colonies", which are overcrowded communities without basic services. These colonies are found in the four border states, and mainly in Texas.

In Mexico:

Based on National Water Commission data, water service coverage on the Mexican side of the border is as follows:

Drinking water     70%

Sewerage          60%

Sanitation          15%

Solid waste

In the United States:

The people living in the colonies and rural border areas generally have no coordinated and integral waste collection and disposal systems, so there are clanderstine dumps all along the border.

In general, municipal solid-waste collection, handling and disposal services have insufficient equipment at their disposal, and often operate under institutional and administrative deficiencies ad without any legal framework regulating provision of the service and proper collection of charges.

Only 70% of trash is collected, and of that 70% only 46% goes into sanitary landfills.

Initial Situation

The de facto operation of the BECC commenced in 1995 when the commission began hiring its personnel. In that year its certification criteria were defined and approved and its general policies were determined, with the permanent work of its Board and Advisory Council.


In the intervening years the commission has performed an important coordination function concerning meetings in different fora on the BECC's structure and expectations, with discussion and definition of rules of procedure and with the energizing of its technical assistance program aimed at strengthening projects that are candidates for certification.

One of its most significant achievements is the public process through which the BECC works. The community participation requirement means that Citizen Information and Monitoring Committees have to be set up, with ample participation of the most representative sectors of the locality where the works would be carried out. These committees will be responsible for performing the necessary information activities, through public meetings and press and education campaigns. A plan can also be drawn up to ensure that the community participation process will continue in the facilities operation and maintenance stages. Two public consultation meetings will have to be held, at least one of which must be announced with 30 days advance notice. During this public process, availability to the public of full information on the proposed project must be guaranteed.

The work of these committees ensures citizen involvement in the community participation process. This also enables the process to be kept neutral in political terms and takes it out of the election period for the communities which, in Mexico, change their municipal administrations every three years. This allows continuity of the projects, greater transparency with a community duly informed and aware of the benefits and impacts of the works envisaged and which will follow the progress of the projects through the certification and postcertification processes, including the construction and operation and maintenance of the facilities.

BECC certification is a new approach on account of the direct work with the border communities and the community participation process, which makes social validation of the projects a key component and one that also serves to strengthen their sustainability.

With its new General Manager, the BECC has consolidated its structure and strengthened the coordination with the various institutions of the three levels of government in the two countries, and especially with the National Water Commission, EPA, the two sections of the CILA and also the BDAN.

As a result of this coordination work, the BECC reports important progress benefiting the Mexico-U.S. border region, with 19 projects certified (ten on the Mexican side and nine on the U.S. side), at an aggregate figure of US$340 million and serving 6.4 million people.

The Process of Change

The approach adopted by the BECC is innovative in that it serves to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the context of decentralization and with participation by the community, which is actively involved in decisionmaking regarding infrastructure projects in its interests. This social validation is an essential component of the certification process. The purpose of this process is to ensure that the public is duly informed, that the community has access to the information and that in general there is majority approval for the works.

Another important component is the sustainability of the facilities, both from the financial standpoint and as regards sustainable development. This entails that the works involved must be financially feasible and that the community, in addition to possessing the ability to pay, must be prepared to cover the cost of amortization, operation and maintenance of the works. Moreover, by means of masterplans which are supported if necessary by the BECC through its technical assistance program, the projects must be consistent with the long-term planning adopted.

During the years the commission has been in operation a significant amount of coordination of actions of the two governments has been done, with participation in information meetings in different fora on the structure and expectations of the commission, with discussion and definition of rules of procedure and application of its technical assistance program to strengthen projects eligible for certification.

The BECC has been a major factor in coordination of the three levels of government of the two countries, and chiefly with the National Water Commission, EPA, the two sections of the CILA, and the BDAN. It has also played a key role in mobilizing resources and commitments to benefit the border region.


The BECC is seeking to remedy the border region's serious environmental infrastructure deficiencies. With its programs and actions it recognizes the region's dynamism and aims to strengthen the projects' sustainability by means of a long-term vision.

Its approach is based on guaranteeing the communities a say in the steps taken to implement sustainable infrastructure facilities and on ensuring public participation in the validation of the projects in question. This means that the projects are executed with communities that are better informed and aware of the problems involved and of the works required to ensure their sustainable development.

The intention is also that besides meeting the environmental and health regulations and standards the projects should be technically feasible and financially sustainable. Their operation and maintenance must further be efficient, together with the associated programs, including emergency plans and safety and health provisions plus training, and wherever necessary   pollution-prevention measures as well.

In terms of sustainable development, the criteria adopted require that the following principles be considered in the projects:

Principle 1.      People are the focus of all concerns for sustainable development; they are entitled to live healthy and productive lives in harmony with nature.

Principle 2.      The right to develop oneself must be exercised in such a way as to respect the development and environmental needs of present and future generations.

Principle 3.      To achieve sustainable development, protection of the environment must form an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation.

Principle 4.      The interested parties, for instance the groups affected by environmental infrastructure projects undertaken, must participate in all activities connected with such projects, which means that:

(a) Border region residents who are directly impacted by the environmental problems must to make their voices heard in decisionmaking regarding the protection and management of their community's environmental resources.

(b) The experience and efforts of the different institutions involved in environmental, social and economic betterment must be combined in order to achieve balanced planning and better utilization of the resources.

Within the framework of sustainable development, provision is also included for projects to be recognized as being highly sustainable when they incorporate a good number of sustainable development features. Such projects are then considered to exceed the basic requirements for certification. This recognition can help them secure concessional financing.

In regard to the long-term future of the border region, the BECC is currently defining and evaluating the relevant environmental topics for the coming years. The matters that are being evaluated and discussed with the communities include the management and disposal of hazardous wastes with the change in the system governing the in-bond assembly industry that will enable cofinancing of the handling and disposal of such wastes in Mexico with effect from the year 2001.

The BECC is continuing to study creative financing arrangements with private participation. On the Mexican side, this ties in with the federal government's policies regarding the granting of concessions for operation of services such as sewage treatment or handling and disposal of municipal solid wastes.

Innovative and creative financial arrangements are matters that have to be reviewed in the context of bilateral cooperation, given the complexity of the issues involved and the differing levels of development in the frontier strip.

The BECC will continue to assist in the negotiation of support and financing for the necessary works and facilities, while also acting as a catalyst for motivation and resources to intensify bilateral cooperation and unite the border societies in working to preserve the region's environment in order to contribute to its balanced and sustainable development.