Studying Sustainability In The Andes Region Environmental Sciences

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Both the upstream and downstream farmers depend on water mainly for economic sustainability. One would assume that they would also use the water for health and sanitary reasons, but this is not the focus of the article, as it focuses more on water being used for irrigation and pastures. In the Andes, these problems are exacerbated by demand for water for irrigation. About 80 percent of Peru's water goes to agriculture and this shows how important water is for the livelihoods of these communities. (Fraser 2009)

Sustainable Technologies

Yet the article also mentions how out of the 80% that goes to agriculture, only 8 percent of farm land uses water-conserving systems like drip irrigation. This means that water saving technologies are barely used to improve the situation, especially considering the latest developments in relation to the melting glaciers.

The article stresses that the need for efficient irrigation will become critical within the next few decades, as ice caps disappear from the Andes, where most of the world's tropical glaciers are located, and where small farmers depend on melt water during the dry season. (Fraser 2009)

The article also describes how large-scale farmers on the coast have more efficient irrigation systems. According to Javier Chiong of the Ministry of Agriculture in Ica, this profusion of wells is pumping water out of the aquifer nearly twice as fast as it can recharge.

Jose Marengo, a Brazilian scientist explains how �In hydrological data, there are series of 20 or 30 years, when we would need 100 years or more to see if there is a cycle of flooding and drought.� (Fraser 2009) This shows how very little scientific data is available on which to base plans and ultimately good governance.

Sustainable Institutions

The article portrays a situation where very little planning and government intervention is currently taking place, not to mention lack of regional planning between the countries involved. On top of that there is also an issue of inequality. This is confirmed by the member of the Farmers Association of Ica in his concluding comment �There�s a lack of planning... and it�s the poor people who will suffer the most. The rich will be able to solve their problems.� (Fraser 2009)

Sustainable Natural Resource Use

Wilson highlights the fact that water is a finite resource. As much as water is recycled via the water cycle, most of the water present on earth is of no use to agriculture and drinking needs. In fact only around 1% is available at any one time. Other constraints include the fact that water is not necessarily available when we need it, hence the flooding and droughts. (Beall et. al, 2002. p. 8) In the article these cycles are represented by droughts associated with El Ni�o events in the 1980s and 1990s, which spurred increased migration from rural areas to cities in Peru. (Fraser 2009)

Distribution and availability is yet another constraint. Water is not always available where it is needed. (Beall et. al, 2002. p. 9) This is mentioned in the article whereby Peruvian officials blame nature�s poor distribution, rather than water scarcity for many of the conflicts mentioned.

Yet one cannot ignore the fact that a constant source of water, the ancient glaciers, are melting fast. This is highlighted by the example of the Chacaltaya glacier which is found outside La Paz, Bolivia, once billed as the world's highest ski resort, is nearly gone.

Development Agencies � Challenges and Approaches

NGOs such as the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) have been providing development aid in a bid to help out communities such as the ones in Peru.

ITDG claims to be a development charity with a difference. They believe that the simplest ideas can have the most profound, life-changing effect on poor people across the world. For many years they have been working closely with some of the world�s poorest people using simple technology to fight poverty and transform their lives for the better.

As described in the Peruvian example, ITDG has a unique approach to development. They built a strong relationship with the communities, a relationship built on trust and respect to their culture. This rhymes with their beliefs, as highlighted by Carlos de la Torre that tools may be simple or sophisticated but to provide long-term, appropriate and practical answers, they must be firmly in the hands of local people: people who shape technology and control it for themselves.

This approach is shown in contrast to the traditional technical support provided by government and NGOs who dictate how things should be done. De la Torre explains how the communities were used to a vertical relationship with state agencies, even with development agencies. �For them, an engineer was someone who turns up in a car wearing good boots and a new jacket...� This created a level of distrust with the communities. (Looking for a future, DVD)

This approach was unarguably one that determined the level of success of the project, at least from a technical aspect. Yet there were also some more complex social issues such as the farmer�s perception towards a female expert.

Understanding the limitations on the project and its focus towards the farming communities, little is mentioned about the wider regional problems. There seems to be a bit of confusion when some farmers were worried about the fact that farmers downstream were threatening their water supply (Beall et. al, 2002. p. 24), but this also seems to reflect the deficiencies arising from lack of coordination between all the stakeholders in the catchment area, and the national/international dimension.

Integrated Water Resources Management

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a participatory planning and implementation process, based on sound science, which brings stakeholders together to determine how to meet society�s long-term needs for water and coastal resources while maintaining essential ecological services and economic benefits. IWRM helps to protect the world�s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health. According to the Integrated Water Resources Management Organization, water policy and management are beginning to reflect the fundamentally interconnected nature of hydrological resources, and IWRM is emerging as an accepted alternative to the sector-by-sector, top-down management style that has dominated in the past.

Some of the principal components of IWRM include the managing of water resources at the basin or watershed scale. This includes integrating land and water, upstream and downstream, groundwater, surface water, and coastal resources. Another component is that related to managing demand. This includes adopting cost recovery policies, utilizing water-efficient technologies, and establishing decentralized water management authorities. There is also an issue of providing equitable access to water resources through participatory and transparent governance and management. This may include support for effective water users� associations, involvement of marginalized groups, and consideration of gender issues. It is also important to utilize an intersectoral approach to decision-making, where authority for managing water resources is employed responsibly and stakeholders have a share in the process. (Beall et. al, 2002. p. 145)

The article mentions how large farmers downstream are calling for a major infrastructure project to channel water from the highlands, dispersing some of it through canals in the desert to recharge the aquifer. Small farmers and llama herders upstream say the scheme could dry the Andean bogs, an ecosystem about which little hydrological data exist. (Fraser 2009)

This indicates how the conflict is also related to different views on the how to manage water, basically IWRM, and the alternative of an ecosystems approach to water management.

The farmers derive a wide array of important benefits from biodiversity and the ecosystems in which they live in. These ecosystem services are essential to human existence and operate on such an overarching scale, and in such intricate and little-explored ways, that most could not be replaced by technology. Accordingly, approaches to IWRM do not regard the ecosystem as a �user� of water in competition with other users, but as the base from which the resource is derived and upon which development is planned. A goal of IWRM should be to maintain, and whenever necessary, restore ecosystem health and biodiversity.

Considering the uncertainties involved and the lack of hydrological data available, an ecosystems approach could provide an improved understanding of the behaviour of the interactions of the system, leading to the ability to provide cause and effect predictions and ultimately manage the water resources system guided by both biophysical and socio-economic indicators, end-points and value systems applicable to this rediscovery. It may also help identify characteristics that are critical to the provision of ecosystem services with emphasis on biophysical, economic, social and environmental characteristics and linkages in the system.


Although ITGB make it clear that they work together with the farmers at a grassroots level as much as possible, one can still conclude that there is always a danger that, traditional command and control approaches to management of the water resources system will continue to be applied under the banner of IWRM and that this will result in the failure of natural systems to sustain the provision of ecosystem goods and services.

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