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Water conflicts in Peru

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

The Environmental Justice Atlas contains details of eight water management conflicts in Peru, here Laura J Brown focuses on three examples: the Santa Teresa II Dam, the Sallca Pucará hydroelectric project, and the Inambari Dam and discusses their similarities and differences in terms of conflict outcomes and the alternative possibilities that local activists are suggesting or constructing.

The Santa Teresa II Dam, status: proposed.

The Santa Teresa II hydropower project has led to a series of criticisms and protests by the inhabitants of the district of Santa Teresa due to its likely negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts. Farmers and local communities mobilised preventive resistance at high intensity, objecting the environmental impact assessment, writing official letters of complaint and petitions, making appeals and creating public campaigns and engaging in blockades, strikes and protests. A student died during confrontation with police during a road blockade in 2014. Environmental justice has not been achieved in this case; although the community has rallied against the project, feasibility studies are still being carried out.

The Sallca Pucará hydroelectric project, status: planned

The conflict surrounding the Sallca Pucará hydroelectric project started in 2008, following the development of a power plant that would take 250m3 water from the Salcca, Irubamba and Acco rivers. Inhabitants argued that the water diversion threatens the livelihoods of many local communities families due to negatively impacting their agricultural and livestock activity. 19,000 families whose income relies heavily on agriculture would be adversely affected. In addition to economic losses, it is likely that these families would suffer from malnutrition as a consequence. As such, many of the local communities have mobilised against the project, using blockades, street protests, strikes and the occupation of public spaces to make their voices heard. Negotiations are still taking place and a new environmental impact assessment has been carried out. Yet, this is not deemed an environmental justice success story because even with community resistance, the project is still in planning and looks to go ahead. Interestingly, not all of the local communities were actually against the initiative, with one community seeing it as an opportunity for progress that will help to alleviate poverty. The preventive resistance to the project has however fostered the development of a network and collective action amongst the remaining local communities, which may provide the social capital and resources required to effectively disrupt the implementation by not letting it get past the planning stage.

The Inambari Dam, status: stopped.

The construction of the Inambari plant is part of the Peru-Brazil energy agreement. It is thought to have considerable negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts including the displacement of thousands of people and severe biodiversity destruction. A resistance committee was formed during the planning stage, the Regional Government of Puno issued a statement against the dam and many local institutions, peasant groups and indigenous federations were opposed to the project. The affected villages were vocal in their opposition, and have prevented company information workshops from taking place. They have written official complaint letters, petitions and appeals and have held protests, blockades and strikes. The police intervened in blockades resulting in two people being injured. The company responsible for conducting the environmental impact assessment was fined due to not carrying out a proper prior consultation thereby excluding local people from participatory justice and not recognising their concerns. The resistance succeeded in building enough social pressure to prevent the project concessions from being renewed and finally the project was suspended in October 2011.

What works?

These three Peruvian water management conflicts highlight that the adverse environmental and socioeconomic impacts of water redistribution and privatisation projects effectively mobilise local community resistance, developing networks and fostering collective action across different affected groups. Resistance activities take many forms, typically protests, marches, strikes and blockades which in two of the cases above resulted in injury or death for some participants. Opposition is also articulated through the more formal channels of appeals, petitions and official complaints although this doesn’t necessarily guarantee environmental justice success, with both the Santa Theresa II Dam and the Inambari Dam conflicts using these methods, but only the latter project being stalled. The Inambari Dam conflict of 2009-2011 provides an example of successful environmental justice but perhaps this is more to do with the coming together of different groups rather than the particular mechanisms of resistance they employed; this movement involved not just lay people but local government and the College of Engineers too. This cohesive coming together of different stakeholders is in contrast to the Sallca Pucará hydroelectric project conflict, where there were differing opinions among the communities in the local area. However, Peru’s ongoing talks with Brazilian companies about resuming construction plans warn that the success of local opposition efforts may be short-lived. Networks need to maintain momentum and continue to mobilise strategically in order to give themselves the best chance of having their collective voices heard.

This essay was written using information on the EJ Atlas as part of an assignment for the Future Learn Environmental Justice course. Photos are also sourced from the EJ Atlas.

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