Rural communities meet to discuss solutions to water scarcity

10 July 2017

With demand for water ever in the ascendant and its supply strictly limited, it is no wonder that water usage is an issue that goes to the heart of many conflicts in today’s Peru. The problem of water shortage will only be accentuated as climate change further reduces rainfall in this (mostly) arid country.

Urban populations are constantly growing leading to ever greater consumption of water per head, agribusinesses need ever larger amounts of water, and extractive operations (principally mining and oil/gas) both put further strain on water supplies and have the effect (if not properly controlled) of polluting existing water courses.

In such circumstances, it tends to be those with least economic and political power that lose out as the competition for this vital resource becomes ever stiffer. These include the poorest in society: those peasant communities whose wherewithal depends on access to adequate water supplies, and poor urban communities who have to pay disproportionately for the water they receive.

The logic of marketization of water, privatising distribution companies and making people pay ‘market’ prices for what is widely perceived as a gift of nature, is a solution to the problem currently under consideration, but is likely once again to hit the poor disproportionately. It is likely to increase opposition to the government and its policies.

In these circumstances, the holding of a conference to debate alternatives which would help those at the bottom of the heap with respect to water is an important initiative. ‘Water Doesn’t Come out of the Tap: Look Upstream’ was the title of the get-together of small-scale rural water users from all over Peru, and it took place last week from 5 to 7 July in Lima.

The event brought together community leaders from all parts of the country, particularly from the highlands where water supplies are being diverted to supply urban users and largescale farming along the coast. Inaugurated by none other than Hugo Blanco, the legendary leader of peasant uprisings in the 1960s, the meeting sought both to identify proposals for change and methods by which that change can be brought about.

While the first day was dedicated in part to looking at water management within watersheds, the second focused more on such thematic issues as criminalisation of protest over water, the impact of climate change, women and water, contamination and the institutional management of water (and its deficiencies).

The event was remarkable for the personal stories of those for whom water scarcity is an ever-growing problem. With the Kuczynski administration elected on promises to resolve problems of water shortage for Peru’s most disadvantaged communities, little has been achieved in its first year in office. The conclusions from ‘Water Doesn’t Come out of the Tap’ provide it with a good deal of food for thought.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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