The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2018 Winner

Restoring Ancient Water Technologies in Peru

Restoring Ancient Water Technologies in Peru

This project integrates 2,000 years of indigenous knowledge of water management in the Andes with contemporary science and technology to create hybrid solutions that improve water security, support livelihoods, strengthen communities and increase ecosystem-wide resilience in mountain communities.

Healthy mountain ecosystems help buffer the impacts of climate change for local communities, wildlife and downstream populations worldwide. Mountain people rely on their surrounding environment for water, food, pasture and the raw materials that are the foundation of their livelihoods. Further downstream, towns and cities depend on mountain water for drinking, agriculture and industry.

Efforts to manage, conserve or restore natural environments can help people adapt to climate change by taking advantage of a healthy ecosystem’s natural resilience. 

In 2013, The Mountain Institute, Peru began working with communities in the Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve affected by increasing water scarcity. They discovered the existence of a vast, complex and partially abandoned hydraulic system to manage water in the alpine high-plateau, or puna. Initiated as early as 100 BC, these systems were used extensively until about 1532. Through a complex of dams and open earth canals, the systems increased soil and ground water storage, creating niche plant communities for camelid herds, and improved water supplies to irrigation systems.

Based on the experience and evidence gained, the group propose to reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities to increasing water scarcity by restoring ancestral hydraulic systems and principles. Their objective is to increase the availability of tools, case studies, methods/information and building and strengthening the capacities of networks of scientists and indigenous organisations to co-design and implement the restoration of this ancestral water system.

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