By Carla Samon Ros
San Pedro de Casta, Peru, Nov 17 (EFE).- At more than 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) above sea level, an ancient network of stone and clay canals brings rain-, river- and mountain stream water to subterranean aquifers that transport it to peasant communities and help reduce water stress on Lima, one of the world’s biggest cities located in a desert.
This is the “amunas” system, a Quechua word meaning “to hold” and alluding to a system of pre-Hispanic engineering capable of distributing and collecting water from the mountains and, months later, making the lowlands bloom during the dry season via the springs and streams there.
In the peasant community of San Pedro de Casta, in Peru’s Huarochiri district, more than 100 local residents worked for more than three months to rehabilitate 8.1 kilometers (5 miles) of this ancestral water distribution network, which allows them to naturally store underground some 1.9 million cubic meters (some 500 million gallons) of water.
One of the stonecutters tasked with repairing and maintaining the so-called Senega-Tambo amuna is Dilzon Obispo, 23, who before getting involved in this task devoted himself to farming and livestock raising, as he told EFE at a canal located at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters, to which access is available only with a 40-minute hike from the town.
“With the materials that are in the area, with the cut stones and the clay, we shape … a canal … which during the rainy season works to provide water for Lima,” he said, after mentioning the scarcity of water in the Peruvian capital, where almost one-third of the country’s population is concentrated.
Just like other residents of San Pedro de Casta, Obispo attended training workshops run by the non-governmental organization Aquafondo and private companies that are fostering the recovery of the amunas in the valley of the Santa Eulalia River, one of the main tributaries of the Rimac River, which despite its deterioration in environmental terms provides 70 percent of Lima’s water.
As Aquafondo director Mariella Sanchez told EFE, World Bank studies show that 80 percent of the water that moves through the amunas directly benefits the people in the vicinity, while the remaining 20 percent goes to the capital.
“However, if we recover more amunas, the population of San Pedro de Casta will meet their water demands with greater ease and this percentage will reverse,” said the economist, adding that the recovery of a meter’s worth of these canals requires an investment of between $100 and $150.
In this community, Aquafondo so far has rehabilitated about 18 km of amunas, contributing more than four million cubic meters of water per year, agricultural engineer Pamela Quino, the coordinator for Aquafondo’s projects, told EFE.
She added that just in the Santa Eulalia River basin there are some 67 km of amunas that still need to be rehabilitated, with a potential of 15 million cubic meters of water per year that could benefit the residents of the upper, mid-level and lower Rimac River basin.
But in addition to the direct benefits of this ancestral water distribution system, which also serves as an adaptive measure against climate change, the NGO director insisted that it also creates job opportunities and provides new skills for members of the community.
In this regard, last May Aquafondo launched a “productive food security project to provide a better quality of life” for people in San Pedro de Casta.
Just a short distance from the town’s Plaza de Armas, two bio-gardens have been set up in which to grow vegetables, along with a compost center and a small guinea pig-raising operation using solar energy, and these facilities provide work for townspeople who receive training in nutrition and business planning to be able to sell their products under the “San Pedro de Casta brand.”