Peru: Improving community access to and management of water resources in the Andes

lake paron

Unequal access to, and conflict over, natural resources is at the root of injustice, poverty and inequality in the Andes region. Working with CEAS (Peruvian Bishops Social Action Commission), this project supports the community of Cruz de Mayo to secure fair access to and management over water resources.

The farming community of Cruz de Mayo lives in the Peruvian Andes, below a glacial lake called Parón. Filled by meltwater from mountain glaciers, Cruz de Mayo depends largely on the Parón lake for their water. The lake also supports agriculture, with water descending via traditional irrigation systems that benefit around 20,000 users. But Parón lake is also used to generate energy: US Company Duke Energy holds a concession for the use of water from the lake and has owned the flow gates since 2004.

Over the years, this rural community has suffered from ongoing conflict with Duke Energy over the levels of water being discharged from the lake to the hydroelectric plant downstream. The water discharge eroded traditional irrigation systems and reduced the availability of water for drinking and farming.

As well as this ongoing conflict around use of water resources, the Cruz de Mayo community now faces another serious challenge. Mining concessions have been granted upon their territory, meaning that large-scale mining could begin soon. Mining is a water-intensive industry that would add another considerable strain on water resources, as well as having a significant social and environmental impact on nearby farming and indigenous communities.

The Project

Meeting Peru2CAFOD partner CEAS – the social arm of Peru’s Bishops Conference – has supported the community of Cruz de Mayo for the past seven years by providing advice and technical support to community members and leaders.

The community has built up its capacity to monitor water resources, know their rights and engage in constructive, evidence-based negotiations with Duke Energy for shared use of Parón lake – in a way that serves energy aims, but prioritises water for human consumption, agriculture and cattle.

In turn, having access to safe water will help promote sustainable livelihoods and economic development opportunities, setting the community on a path out of poverty. In addition to this, CEAS and the Cruz de Mayo community are aiming for development that makes sustainable use of land and water in the context of climate change. Parón is in fact a lake nourished by 7 different glaciers, but with glaciers melting due to global warming, an important component of the project will be to identify alternative viable economic activities.

In partnership with Newcastle University in the UK, CAFOD has supported CEAS to develop a community-based water monitoring programme to assess the quality of water in the Paron valley before any mining activity begins. This provides the Cruz de Mayo community with credible technical evidence of the quality and quantity of water prior to the start of any mining, holding any prospective mining company accountable.