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Restoration of the amunas, ancient water harvesting systems in the Andes


Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

Lima is experiencing water scarcity. Climate change has led to a rainfall deficit but also to short bursts of heavy rainfall, causing soil erosion and affecting the existing environmental infrastructure. This has resulted in a reduction in the water supply in the Santa Eulalia river basin, which directly affects the water supply for economic activities carried out in the community of San Pedro de Casta, such as agriculture and livestock farming. Restoring amunas in this area contributes directly to groundwater recharge, prevents soil erosion on the mountainsides, encourages water flow and contributes towards the recovery of native vegetation by reducing soil loss. The project focused its efforts on restoring and improving the Chucuwasi amuna to increase the availability of water during the low water season and to control water flows during the rainy or flood season.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

Restoring amunas encourages the revaluation of ancestral knowledge and cultural practices. When combined with modern technical knowledge and tools, these lead to efficient projects that are beneficial not only to people but also the environment. This project also involved the exchange of knowledge between the community of San Pedro de Casta (Lima) and the community of Jauja (Junín), empowering them through capacity-building workshops on the monitoring, operation, and maintenance of amunas so that they could take ownership of these tasks once the project was finished and handed over to them. More than 520,000 m3 of water infiltrated the aquifer along the 2,000 m stretch of amunas, improving agriculture across approximately 7 hectares of native plantations. The generation of information to provide evidence of the aquifer recharge volume was facilitated by the installation of instruments and hydrological monitoring equipment.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

The project helped directly enhance the area’s various ecosystem services that manage the impacts of climate change. In addition to preventing soil erosion, it increased the volume of infiltrated water to more than 520,000 m3, contributing towards the recovery and conservation of ecosystems by providing a greater water supply for agricultural activities over approximately 7 hectares of land and enabling the growth of endemic and medicinal plants along the 2 km stretch of amunas that, in turn, improves water regulation services. Finally, the project brought many intangible benefits to the community, including a cultural identity, a feeling of attachment to the land, and a relationship with the natural environment. Without our intervention, mountain communities with eroded soils would experience huaicos, a combination of extreme mudslides and flash floods that also sweep rocks down the mountains during the short periods of high rainfall. Amunas are an ancestral water harvesting system that capture and regulate the volume of water in the upper parts of basins that run through ravines during the rainy season, channeling it through to the infiltration area for storage in the subsoil. This creates a natural barrier resilient to climate change and other natural disasters such as floods and avalanches.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

We are a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to contribute to Lima's water security by promoting sustainable investment in ecosystem services and influencing public policy by facilitating governance mechanisms, in partnership with public and private entities and with the support of scientific research. In this context, our initiative seeks to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation. We encourage state sectors such as the Ministry of Environment to invest in this type of project through Payments for Ecosystem Services, since we contribute to the development and promotion of these projects in conjunction with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and public entities.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

Throughout the project there were several challenges related to the region’s altitude, which exceeds 4,370 metres above sea level, and extreme climate that made activities such as transporting materials difficult. However, thanks to the support and willingness of the members of the rural community of San Pedro de Casta, we managed to overcome these challenges and mobilise the market of professionals through better solutions that allow us to promote and reuse ancestral knowledge. To implement and finance this project, there was a continuous process of awareness-raising among different actors that allowed us to receive resources from private companies.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

Yes. The benefits of the project are categorised as short-, medium-, or long-term. To begin with, the benefits obtained upon completion of the project will be sustainable thanks to agreements with the community, who identified the restoration of the amuna as a necessity. The cooperation agreement with the community, which will be signed once we hand over the project to them, ensures that they will operate and maintain the infrastructure. The Water Fund for Lima and Callao (Aquafondo), follows up on the status of the project through quarterly on-site monitoring and by telephone on an ongoing basis.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

Upon completion of the project, we had learned more about the importance of working with an organised community that advocates for the implementation of this type of project, actively participating in the identification of issues and seamlessly approving them before an assembly, and taking part in the search for immediate solutions. Constant communication via telephone with community members managed to keep everyone informed of the development, changes, or news from community leaders, demonstrating the involvement of both parties and their commitment to the project. Some of the lessons learned include the importance of revaluing ancestral knowledge and how this can be combined with modern technical knowledge to achieve projects that are efficient and beneficial not only to people but also to the environment. In addition, the project demonstrates the fundamental role of private companies in the development of these initiatives, not only as part of their corporate social responsibility but also as part of their responsibility to the environment.