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Water In Abundance But Not Where Needed

1 April 2010

Torrential rains and heavy flooding in southern Peru at the end of January affected over 40,000 people and prompted dramatic helicopter rescues of some 4,000 tourists stranded near the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. In other parts of the country however, it is an acute shortage of water that is causing great concern.

According to MRG partner organization Centro de Desarollo Etnico (CEDET), a serious drought over the past year in Andean region countries of South America continues to affect the whole Central Sierra region of Peru putting indigenous and Afro-Peruvian communities at risk of even greater poverty during 2010.

The drought follows a period of extreme cold weather that caused many health problems for indigenous communities in the region. Freezing temperatures in June 2009 not only affected the respiratory health of these populations, but also destroyed food crops and eliminated much of the livestock, which represents the main source of livelihood for many indigenous Andean communities.

The drought is also having an impact on urban areas. In the capital city Lima, which has experienced a steady influx of rural populations who have abandoned their lands due to armed conflict or real estate development, more than one and a half million people lack potable water. Those residents are required to buy water at 10 soles per cubic meter. In contrast, the more privileged urban neighbourhoods have 24-hour access and only pay 1.60 soles for the same amount.

The activist group Movimiento Peruanos Sin Agua (Peruvians without Water) reports that more than eight million Peruvians in the national population of 27 million lack access to clean water due to a combination of drought and contamination of water sources from resource extraction activities. Most of those affected are indigenous people and Afro-descendants who continue to constitute a disproportionate number of the poorest of the poor.

During 2009, indigenous protests against the operations of mining companies in the Amazon region caused bloody confrontations and prompted the resignation of some senior government officials. They were protesting policies and actions that they argue favour foreign transnational mining operations over social needs and the constitutionally protected right of indigenous communities to determine how their communal lands are used.

Groups like Movimiento Peruanos Sin Agua are now calling on elected officials to fulfil their pre-election promises to pay greater attention to national social needs, especially the provision of potable water to all of the country’s residents.