News / Americas

Peru Bores Through Andes to Water Desert

Pipeline stock is seen during the construction of the Olmos Irrigation Project in Peru's northwestern region of Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
Pipeline stock is seen during the construction of the Olmos Irrigation Project in Peru's northwestern region of Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
Reuters
Peru's Olmos Valley might be a desert now, with rare rains and rivers that trickle to life for just a few months a year, but a radical engineering solution for water scarcity could soon create an agricultural bonanza here.

Fresh water that now tumbles down the eastern flank of the Andes mountains to the Amazon basin and eventually the Atlantic Ocean will instead move west through the mountains to irrigate this patch of desert on Peru's coast. It will then drain into the Pacific Ocean.

The Herculean project to reverse the flow of water and realize a century-old dream is in many ways the most important water work ever in Peru. It could serve as a blueprint for the kind of construction projects needed to tackle worsening water scarcity.

Call it extreme engineering in the age of global warming.

"All of this will be green," said engineer Giovanni Palacios, looking out over miles of brown shrubbery at a construction site he oversees for the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

Giovanni Palacios, director and lead engineer of the Olmos Irrigation Project, watches a construction area of the project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.Giovanni Palacios, director and lead engineer of the Olmos Irrigation Project, watches a construction area of the project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
x
Giovanni Palacios, director and lead engineer of the Olmos Irrigation Project, watches a construction area of the project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
Giovanni Palacios, director and lead engineer of the Olmos Irrigation Project, watches a construction area of the project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
Palacios is the director of the Olmos Irrigation Project, an ambitious and - until it starts in 2014 - unproven vision with a $500 million price tag.

It has included drilling a 12-mile (20 km) tunnel through the formidable Andes to capture abundant water flows on the other side. That feat required a drill 1,000 feet long (305 meters).

It aims to fix Peru's most emblematic water problem.

Rainfall on the coast averages six inches (150 mm) per year and the project is coming online as Peru's tropical glaciers, a source of fresh water for millions, melt away with rising global temperatures.

"This will all be sugar cane, avocado, passion fruit, and people everywhere will be working, planting, harvesting, packaging," Palacios said, perched on a heap of sand - some of the 2.5 million cubic meters (808 million cubic feet) of earth that have been moved so far to make way for the water.

The Olmos project, which critics say benefits mostly big agricultural companies rather than small farmers, is the most ambitious of seven massive irrigation works that are turning swaths of desert valleys near Peru's coast into profitable, producing fields.

Together they will greenfield some 900 square miles, or about 233,000 hectares (576,000 acres), of desert over the next decade.

Most of the projects tap a few glacier-fed rivers along the Pacific coast. The Olmos irrigation project, however, is the first of at least two that will pull water destined for the Amazon to the coast to feed crops.

It shares some similarities with works that have drawn drinking water across the mountains to the capital, Lima, for years.

Peru is one of the countries most exposed to climate change, according to the United Nations, and Lima is about as dry as Baghdad.

Test flows of water on the tunnel for the Olmos Valley were conducted last year.

Next year, Odebrecht will start pumping billions of gallons of water into fields leased by agricultural companies over a 170-square mile (440-square km) patch of desert in the northern Lambayeque region, known for its algorrobo trees with roots that stretch up to 164 feet (50 meters) underground to find water.

'Crushing Burden'

Peru has long struggled to manage a natural water imbalance that climate change could soon visit on other nations: too much water in some places and not enough in others.

The coastal region west of the Andes range, home to two-thirds of Peru's population and 80 percent of economic activity, receives just two percent of the country's fresh water.

That is because the towering Andes catch rising warm air in chilly mountain peaks - forcing moisture to condense and drain into the jungle, and casting a long, dry "rain shadow" over coastal regions to the west.

The lack of water in regions along the coast already places a "totally crushing" burden on Peru - South America's fastest-growing economy, said Jorge Benites, the conservation director for the national water agency.

"With climate change and rapid population and economic growth, trans-Andean projects like Olmos will surely multiply," Benites said.

Water has defined life on Peru's coast since pre-Incan times, with power accompanying those who control it.

Before extreme weather and droughts marked its collapse in 800 AD, the ancient pyramid-building Moche civilization thrived along the northern coast of Peru for some 700 years, thanks to a surface irrigation system that used seasonal rivers to soak fields of corn, bean and peanut crops.

Farmer Ricardo Julca poses while irrigating his crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.Farmer Ricardo Julca poses while irrigating his crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.
x
Farmer Ricardo Julca poses while irrigating his crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.
Farmer Ricardo Julca poses while irrigating his crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.
Irrigation in Olmos hasn't changed much since the time of the Moche for many local farmers. While some can afford to pump groundwater to their fields in the long dry season, others wait for the Olmos River to swell after brief downpours during the rainy months before rushing to dig out irrigation paths with shovels.

Odebrecht estimates the Olmos irrigation project will create about 40,000 direct jobs and another 120,000 indirect jobs - so many that a team of Peruvian architects from different firms designed a new city to house the newcomers.

Inspired by the Moche, it would rely on adobe structures that would create shade and harness winds to cool residents.

"This whole Olmos experiment is like what the Moche did thousands of years ago. They conquered the desert through irrigation and built urban centers," said Jose Orrego, an architect with the firm Metropolis in Lima. "The idea is very seductive.''

Century-old Vision

Engineers say Olmos is the most complex and risky project they have ever worked on, with hot and stuffy conditions inside the mountain requiring air conditioning and unstable geology outside that has caused at least two slides.

Construction on the tunnel was finished in late 2011 and by 2015 enough water to fill 160,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools (400 million cubic meters) can start moving annually through the mountain, powering a small hydroelectric plant in the process.

Workers put together a pipeline during the construction of the Olmos Irrigation Project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.Workers put together a pipeline during the construction of the Olmos Irrigation Project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
x
Workers put together a pipeline during the construction of the Olmos Irrigation Project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
Workers put together a pipeline during the construction of the Olmos Irrigation Project in Lambayeque, March 15, 2013.
The project has been a dream of engineers and politicians since the late 19th century, well before worries arose over global warming. It languished over funding issues until 2003, when a decentralization push moved it to the regional government in Lambayeque to work it out with the private sector.

Odebrecht eventually won the right to build the project, which has arguably taken on added importance as scientists warn that many of Peru's glaciers could disappear.

"Lambayeque has a bright future but to get there we need more investment, and what will bring that investment is water," said Humberto Acuna, the president of the regional government.

Odebrecht, the Brazilian company, plays a supersized role in Peru, building everything from highways to mining facilities, and even putting up a smaller version of Rio de Janeiro's famous Christ the Redeemer statue over Lima's coastal skyline.

To pay for construction of the Olmos project without government funds, Odebrecht said it asked investors to bet on the future flow of water that would feed crops. It auctioned off idle public land to agricultural companies for half of the financing and sold debt based on future water sales to those companies for the rest.

"For this to go forward, the stars had to be aligned," said Jorge Barata, the director of Odebrecht in Peru. "The novelty of the financial structure created some doubts in the beginning."

Does Turning Desert into Garden Work?

While the plan is to keep moving water from east of the Andes to the coast, the Peruvian government's appetite to do so with business models like Olmos may be waning.

President Ollanta Humala has touted irrigation works for small farmers instead of industrial projects like Olmos, which was under way before he assumed power, that are financed in part through higher water prices.

Critics say the Olmos project sidelined family farms and gave public resources - land and water - to big export-oriented companies for little in return.

The smallest plot of the 38,000 hectares (94,000 acres) auctioned off was 250 hectares (618 acres), requiring a minimum investment of about $1 million.

"It was a good idea, but in reality the project has favored agroindustry over the farmers in the region who dreamed of it for 100 years,'' said Fernando Eguren of Cepes, a group that advocates for small farmers.

Odebrecht said it had agreed to make water available for 5,500 hectares (13,590 acres) of community parcels and will offer it at a rate below what farmers now pay to pump groundwater.

Irrigation water is seen near passionfruit crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.Irrigation water is seen near passionfruit crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.
x
Irrigation water is seen near passionfruit crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.
Irrigation water is seen near passionfruit crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos, March 14, 2013.
However, Juan Rodolfo Soto, the president of the local farmers group in Olmos, said Odebrecht should build the same irrigation infrastructure on community parcels that the companies will get.

He and other farmers have long dreamed of gaining access to stable water supplies.

"After so many years, so much of our hope has turned into disappointment," said Soto. "But I think we will still benefit indirectly, with jobs in hotels or working for big companies."

An important global miner, Peru has more than tripled its agricultural exports over the past decade, according to the Agriculture Ministry, using its year-round good climate and around 19 free trade agreements to meet global demand for high-priced crops like asparagus.

Still, watering Peru's coastal regions to keep growing agricultural exports has its own risks. The El Nino phenomena that periodically warms the Pacific and stirs up destructive rains has the potential to wreak havoc.

Also, access to water that is too easy can result in salinization, as water-logged fields build up salt in soil at levels toxic to crops.

"Turning Peru's desert into a garden sounds really nice, but how well does it really work," said Jeffrey Bury, a geographer at the University of California Santa Cruz who studies water issues in Peru.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: david lulasa from: tambua,gimarakwa,hamisi,v
April 08, 2013 7:08 AM
that means that lack of water is a national disaster in peru,therefore,all they need is the intervention of good drills that can bore through...such machines would be better be owned by everybody..i dont think they will make people idle as long as they are working/on.


Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Brazil's Lula Back Campaigning for Rousseff - and Maybe Himself

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remains the one true rock star of Brazilian politics, introduced to adoring crowd of thousands over weekend as 'our eternal president'
More

Former Chilean Mayor Arrested for Pinochet-era Human Rights Crimes

Cristian Labbe, a retired colonel who later served as mayor of Providencia, is a subject of probe into rights violations, a government spokesman said
More

Poll: Venezuela's Maduro Approval Rating Drops to 30 Percent

Rating dropped from 35.4 percent in July to 30.2 percent in Sept., according to Datanalisis, amid ongoing economic crisis that has weighed on president's popularity
More

Uruguay's Roll-out of Marijuana Experiment Faces Election Risk

Ground-breaking experiment could be dropped or watered down if opposition candidate wins this month's presidential election
More

Polls: Opposition Has Slight Lead in Brazil Presidential Runoff

However, business-favorite candidate Aecio Neves is struggling to retain momentum that gave him a slight advantage over Dilma Rousseff in recent polls
More

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa
More