Course:GEOG352/Water Scarcity in Lima, Peru: A Postcolonial Lens

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Monastery of San Francisco, Lima

The Peruvian capital of Lima sits along the swell of the South American Pacific coastline, situated in the Rímac Valley as the continent curves eastward toward Bolivia and Chile. Located in a mild desert climate, the second largest city in South America is home to 9,752,000 people [1]. Utilizing a postcolonial lens, this wiki will uncover how neoliberal policy, uneven distribution of infrastructure, and the persistence of colonial power relations have contributed to the water crisis seen in Lima today.

Post-colonial theory is thought to have originated in 1978 with the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism, which suggested that “no form of intellectual or cultural activity is innocent of power hierarchies” [2]. As an academic discipline, postcolonialism rethinks contemporary global realities through the lens of historical imperialism and colonialism. In the context of urban studies in the Global South, analyzing cities through a postcolonial lens takes into account the locatedness of theories [3].

The coastal city of Lima benefits from a post-colonial analysis, as the city was founded as the seat of Spanish colonial power in Peru, built by conquistadores who established the city to relocate power away from the Incan capital in Cuzco [4].

Introduction

Aerial view of Lima

A postcolonial perspective on urban water governance provides a critical analysis of the availability of infrastructure and who can access it, and how these issues extend beyond the day-to-day logistics of managing resources in a city. Neoliberalism has been the governing paradigm in most Latin American countries since the political and economic reforms of the 1980s [5], and has encouraged the “neoliberalization of nature” [6], a phenomenon in which elements of the environment are integrated within the economy[7]. This marketization of natural resources is a process that frames nature as separate from society, and therefore justifies its commodification. This has enabled the privatization, commercialization and commodification of water.

Why Is This Issue Important for Lima

Lima is experiencing a water crisis[8], The crisis extends throughout the country, as three of the 31 million Peruvians lack access to safe water [9]. Through a conventional lens, the water crisis can be explained as a symptom of the relationship between Lima’s geographic location, climate, and growing population, which increases by 1.57% annually[10]. Lima is located in a desert which receives, on average, only 16 millimeters of rain annually [11], while simultaneously housing a population of more than nine million[12]. There is an “escalating degradation of rivers and aquifers”[13] due to declining rainfall and the effects of climate change on the shrinking Andean glacial system, resulting in lower annual flows on the Río Rímac, Lima’s principle water source. This is partnered with groundwater depletion due to extractive practices by industrial scale farming and mining operations, and exacerbated by the general needs of the population[14].

Through a postcolonial context, Lima’s water crisis can be explained as being due to the uneven distribution of infrastructure and resources and the continued impacts of colonialism [15]. During Peru’s Keynesian period of economic recovery during the interwar and post-war phase, water services were available to more of the population, often below production costs, as a basic requirement of social well-being and national development[16]. The introduction of neoliberal water policies emphasized social differences and created competition over resources[17]. This exacerbated Peru’s pre-existing social inequalities, as only those who could afford water could access it, particularly marginalizing mestizos and Indigenous groups[18]. The monetization of water aided Peru’s national economic recovery by circulating capital, but failed to create a water provision system that met the consumption needs of residents.

What is the Scale and Scope of this Issue?

In Lima, water governance and access to water are issues of key importance. Movement from the core to the periphery of the city typically follows a gradient of high-to-low socioeconomic status, correlating strongly with the availability of water and infrastructure. In the high income areas of the core, 40% of the population consumes 88% of the total water available, resulting in the poorer 60% only receiving access to 12% [19]. For the 35% of Lima’s population that are living at or below the poverty line, the average amount of water available for use per day is estimated at below 50 litres, while the rich use, on average, up to 460 litres [20]. Of those living in the city, 20% of the population continues to rely on privatized water distribution services, while those dependent on public services still suffer great variance in the quality and availability of potable water; “40.6% suffered from intermittent supply, and 50% of treated water was lost due to leakage and illicit connections” [21]. Those relying on private water vendors on average use less than 25 litres per day. Water scarcity is disproportionately felt by the 43.4% of Lima's population who live in barriadas, informal settlements at the periphery of this growing city[22]. The availability of treated water oscillated from 8.51 m3 per inhabitant per year in 1986 to 6.97 m3 in 1990, 7.45 m3 in 2000 and only1 6.74 m3 in 2007. [23]

Is this a Global or Local Phenomenon?

Water scarcity is an essential emerging issue across the global south, though Lima experiences this water crises in distinct ways. The mechanisms of the neoliberalization of water differ between local and national governments, as do its subsequent sociological, political, and economic impacts. This means that while water security and the phenomenon of water scarcity are global issues, they are experienced primarily through the hyperlocal interactions between citizens and their environments, service providers, and local governments.

Case Study: Water Scarcity in Lima, Peru

Perspectives on Water Scarcity

A Marxist perspective on water scarcity characterizes the degradation of the environment as an inevitable consequence of neoliberal free market policies. As such, scarcity informs the various ways in which the market relates to nature, and thus land ownership and the commodification of natural resources inherently excludes and disenfranchises those outside of the techno-bureaucracy[24]. Water scarcity, while frequently imagined as resulting from "a combination of physical insufficiencies, environmental determinism and imperfect, costly market transactions,” [25], follows a more complex causality, and it must be noted that the "cartography of water scarcity closely follows the legacy of colonial rule and the troubles of post-colonial development" [26]. To draw on Lefebvre and his theory of scarcity, which details the way different resources are used, such as "space, time, desire and elements (not only water, but air, earth, the sun)", in relation to their management, which "encapsulates inequalities and is instrumental in the perpetuation of exploitation." [27]. A postcolonial perspective on water scarcity in Lima positions it at the intersection of neoliberal policy-making practices and the persistence of colonial power relations, drawing us to question traditional imaginaries of water usage crises as failing to "capture [the] monetary value [of water] and to realise its full economic potential" [28].

Political Economic History of Lima's Water Governance

Peru adopted several social programs in the 1930s and nationalized many industries in order to promote economic growth. Following tremendous growth in the 1970s, a crash in the price of petroleum stagnated state growth, while civil and economic unrest was further aggravated by the collapse of Peru's military regime in 1975[29]. The introduction of economic reforms during the García administration also failed to bring about state prosperity or abate Peruvian dependence on imports, resulting in hyperinflation and volatile markets by initiating a wartime economic policy[30]. During Fujimori's presidency, he imposed numerous neoliberal reforms to mitigate the economic crisis, engaging in neoliberal structural adjustment with the support of the IMF and World Bank. By 1990, Servicio de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de Lima (SEDAPAL), the state run water distribution service, left nearly a quarter of the Peruvian population unable to access water supply and a third without adequate sanitation services[31]. By 1992, water regulation and sanitation was made a municipal rather than a federal responsibility, though the capital and infrastructure remained in the hands of the national government, which was necessary in order to prepare SEDAPAL for privatization. Though SEDAPAL failed to privatize due to popular discontent, the state-governed body continued to utilize neoliberal policies of cost-cutting and profit-motivation. A decrease in foreign investment in Peru as well as the costly expansion of water provision services to expanding mountainous regions instigated a public-private partnership with Agua Azul. [32] In 2007, the new García administration implemented the "Water for All" program which significantly increased management and infrastructure provided by foreign corporate bodies, eventually turning SEDAPAL into a particularly lucrative investment opportunity. Though the neoliberalization of water had provided some short term benefits to water procurement and infrastructure, the long term impacts of such a top-down policy resulted in marginalized communities unable to access water due to rising costs. [33] This system placed international investors' interests in competition with the needs of peri-urban communities and Lima's urban poor, favouring profit motivations over domestic concerns and exacerbating classist and racist tensions.

Local Experience

Cerro de San Cristóbal, Lima, Peru

The way in which capitalism and neoliberal policy interact with local experiences can be felt in the community of Ocucaje, a peri-urban region of Lima. Here, Agricola la Venta, an industrial scale farming company threatens to purchase a local well, which provides a source of water to local farmers. In a documentary produced by USA Today, local resident Joselyn Guzman, whose only form of sustenance is small-scale agriculture, claims that Agricola la Venta is attempting to build a pipe from the well to their fields. Guzman, along with other local residents, are making attempts to stop the project through road blockages and burning the pipes [34]. Large scale mining and agriculture projects are detrimental to the water supply of Lima, as upstream on the Río Rímac banks are littered with these big business operations. Liliana et al. point out, "water is also important to industry, as mining companies consume large quantities for which they pay almost seven times less than citizens." [35] Many of these industrial scale farms grow asparagus, one of the most water-intensive vegetables, though also a highly profitable export, illustrating the ways in which neoliberalism and capitalism exacerbate the issue of water scarcity.

For many limeños, such as Nestor Machacha, the lack of water accessibility has come to be a central struggle in day to day life. His eight person household is only able to access 300 litres of water per week, "a fraction of the amount the World Health Organization says is required to meet a person’s most basic needs" [36]. Feliciano Vargas, another local, explains that the existing truck delivery service does not come without serious issues, as sometimes the water isn't to drinking standard, making children sick with serious illnesses and causing them to "have no energy. [Students] sit in class and just want to sleep. They're tired and can't concentrate" [37]. Some trucks circulate with a false SEDAPAL logo, selling water to locals as private companies distributing from untreated water sources.

Those living in Lima's barriadas are both physically and socially marginalized. Women from poor homes are given the role of fetching water for the family, which takes away time for social and economic development and contributes further to gender inequality [38]. To combat this marginalization, locals attempt to work with local NGO's that may be able to increase water availability via infrastructure or roads. The effectiveness of these efforts can be hit or miss, as NGO's are largely dependent on funding from external sources[39]. Some locals have taken matters into their own hands. Abel Cruz, an occupant of one of these barriadas, has installed 60 fog catchment nets on the hills of Lima that provide 200-400 litres of water per day; creating an adequate water supply for the non-drinking needs of approximately 250 families in the area [40].

Solutions to the Issue

In Lima, the issue of water scarcity draws us to note that in reality there is no substantive shortage of water in Lima, but rather an uneven distribution of resources and lack of access. Addressing this issue requires more than simply restructuring current infrastructure or formalizing these informal settlements, as this may compromise the already vulnerable nature of slumdwellers while strengthening stakeholders’ grasp on operations within slums [41]. Desai and Loftus note that formalizing informal settlements, whether through the establishment of a rent to an occupied space or through the installation of basic infrastructural services, leads to the disenfranchisement of those who already exist on the land. The commodification of occupied spaces tends to raise the cost of the land (benefitting the current occupier, and leading to its subsequent gentrification) or raise the cost of rent (benefiting the landlord who owns and leases the space)[42]. Instead, the solution may lie in "democratising the right to produce the city" by "challenging abstractions" (such as rent and neoliberalism), to allow not only limeños, but all urban constituents, to "democratically make their own cities", and begin the "process of remaking our world in profoundly different ways"[43]. This would come to fruition through what Susana Villarán, mayor of Lima (2011-2015), detailed as the development of "cooperation and shared goals among the central government, the ministries, and local municipalities." [44]. As Ioris notes, water is ultimately a "relational substance that is constituted by myriad relationships between social groups" (127). In the case of Lima, water brings together the concerns and needs of a struggling population with the desires of large-industries and governmental bodies. In order to aid in this struggle for water by local limeños, it is vital that those living at the margins be given the ability to access and utilize their social and political rights.

Lessons Learned to be Applied to Other Urban Contexts

The marketization of nature suggests a rising dominance of the financial market and institutions over the environment, giving the fluctuations of nature (such as changes in weather patterns) influence over profits. As Loftus and March argue, it is more important to consider the influence that global finance has on the construction of infrastructure which provides and distributes than the commodification of the resource itself.[45] In discussions of resource allocation, focus is typically placed on climate change as the cause for resource shortages, and therefore the primary topic of discussion regarding ineffective resource allocation.[46] However, the neoliberalisation of water suggests that one must interrogate the role that global capitalism plays in resource distribution by creating a profit motive for infrastructure developers.

Applying this knowledge to other urban contexts, we must consider the impacts of foreign direct investment (FDI) on other cities in the global South, and how these investments serve the best interests of urban citizens. Domestic governments must also be challenged to appeal to the best interests of their citizens–though autocratic regimes are not necessarily held accountable to their citizenry, foreign capital is not solely to blame for inefficient infrastructure or the neoliberalisation of the "public" sector. Universal suffrage and uplifting marginalized communities is particularly important when constructing infrastructure. When considering socially conscious resource allocation, we must consider aspects of "multiple scarcities."[47] In other words, the scarcity of water is reinforced and upheld by pre-existing forms of social scarcity and marginalization, and the complete process of urbanization and historical upbringing of a city must be considered when addressing water scarcity. [48] Other global South cities experiencing similar strains on their municipal resource allocation include Cape Town, Cairo, and Jakarta. [49] When considering the pressing demands of climate change as a global issue, access to water is often an issue of mismanagement or ineffective infrastructure as well as neoliberal policies which affect equal and fair distribution.

References

  1. LR, R. (2015, January 17). INEI: Lima cuenta con 9 millones 752 mil habitantes. Retrieved April 2, 2018, from http://larepublica.pe/sociedad/849113-inei-lima-cuenta-con-9-millones-752-mil-habitantes
  2. Azim, F. (2001) Post-Colonial Theory, In: Knellwolf, C. and Norris, C. (eds.), The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 235–248.
  3. Roy, A. (2009). The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory, Regional Studies, 43(6), pp. 819-830.
  4. Deans-Smith, S. (2001). Remapping Spanish Imperialism, Colonialism, and Post-Colonialism: The Case of Cuzco, Peru. The Historical Journal, [online] Volume 44(1), pp. 297-306.
  5. Ioris, A. (2013). The Adaptive Nature of the Neoliberal State and the State-led Neoliberalisation of Nature: Unpacking the Political Economy of Water in Lima, Peru. New Political Economy, 18(6), pp. 912-938.
  6. ibid.
  7. ibid.
  8. ibid.
  9. Peru Water Crisis - Clean Water In Peru. Retrieved April 6, 2018, from https://water.org/our-impact/peru/
  10. Una Mirada a Lima Metropolitana. (2014, September). INEI. Available at: http://www.inei.gob.pe/media/MenuRecursivo/boletines/estadisticas-ambientales-febrero-2014.pdf
  11. CLIMATE: LIMA. (2015, August 09). Retrieved April 01, 2018, from https://en.climate-data.org/location/1014/
  12. Hütter, M., 2011. Water crisis in Lima | DW | 06.12.2011. DW.COM. Available at: http://www.dw.com/en/water-crisis-in-lima/a-15581756 [Accessed April 6, 2018].
  13. Ioris, A. (2013) The Adaptive Nature of the Neoliberal State and the State-led Neoliberalisation of Nature: Unpacking the Political Economy of Water in Lima, Peru. “New Political Economy” 18(6) pp.912-938
  14. Ioris, A. (2012). The geography of multiple scarcities: Urban development and water problems in Lima, Peru. Geoforum, 43(3), pp.612-622.
  15. ibid.
  16. Ioris, A. (2013) The Adaptive Nature of the Neoliberal State and the State-led Neoliberalisation of Nature: Unpacking the Political Economy of Water in Lima, Peru. “New Political Economy” 18(6) pp.912-938
  17. ibid.
  18. ibid.
  19. Ioris, A. (2012). The geography of multiple scarcities: Urban development and water problems in Lima, Peru. Geoforum, 43(3), pp.612-622.
  20. Miranda Sara, L., Jameson, S., Pfeffer, K. and Baud, I. (2016). Risk perception: The social construction of spatial knowledge around climate change-related scenarios in Lima. Habitat International, 54, pp.136-149.
  21. Ioris, A. (2012). The geography of multiple scarcities: Urban development and water problems in Lima, Peru. Geoforum, 43(3), pp.612-622.
  22. ibid.
  23. ibid.
  24. ibid.
  25. ibid.
  26. ibid.
  27. Lefebvre, H. (2014). The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  28. Ioris, A. (2010). The Political Nexus between Water and Economics in Brazil: A Critique of Recent Policy Reforms. Review of Radical Political Economics, 42(2), pp.231-250.
  29. Ioris, A. (2013) The Adaptive Nature of the Neoliberal State and the State-led Neoliberalisation of Nature: Unpacking the Political Economy of Water in Lima, Peru. “New Political Economy” 18(6) pp.912-938
  30. Rush, V. (1988) Peru's Alan Garcia initiates war economy. “Executive Intelligence Review” (15) pp.10-10
  31. Ioris, A. (2013) The Adaptive Nature of the Neoliberal State and the State-led Neoliberalisation of Nature: Unpacking the Political Economy of Water in Lima, Peru. “New Political Economy” 18(6) pp.912-938
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. USA Today. (2015, 10 Dec). Pumped Dry: A conflict over water in Peru [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HomYxtAEEfo&t=507s
  35. Miranda Sara, L., Jameson, S., Pfeffer, K. and Baud, I. (2016). Risk perception: The social construction of spatial knowledge around climate change-related scenarios in Lima. Habitat International, 54, pp.136-149.
  36. Elaa Mavisin. (2017, 6 July). Drought in Peru [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlXZ4QWt1fk
  37. ibid.
  38. Ioris, A. (2012). The geography of multiple scarcities: Urban development and water problems in Lima, Peru. Geoforum, 43(3), pp.612-622.
  39. Elaa Mavisin. (2017, 6 July). Drought in Peru [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlXZ4QWt1fk
  40. BBC News. (2016, 6 July). Cloud Catchers [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4GHGBov15U
  41. Desai, V. & Loftus, A. (2013). Speculating on Slums: Infrastructural Fixes in Informal Housing in the Global South. Antipode, 45(4), pp. 789-808.
  42. ibid.
  43. ibid.
  44. Elaa Mavisin. (2017, 6 July). Drought in Peru [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlXZ4QWt1fk
  45. Loftus, A. & March, H. (2015). "Financialising nature?", GEOFORUM, vol. 60, pp. 172-175.
  46. Ioris, A. (2012). The Neoliberalization of Water in Lima, Peru. Political Geography, 31(5), pp. 266-278.
  47. Ioris, A. (2012). The geography of multiple scarcities: Urban development and water problems in Lima, Peru. Geoforum, 43(3), pp.612-622.
  48. ibid.
  49. Suzuki, D. (2018) Lessons from Cape Town's water crisis. [online] National Observer. Available at: https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/03/15/opinion/lessons-cape-towns-water-crisis Accessed: 28 March, 2018.