Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Forests and Water in Peru

By Liliana Usvat    
Blog 335-365 

Situated in the heart of the Andes mountains and bordered by five countries and the Pacific Ocean, Peru is the third largest country in South America and boasts the second largest area of tropical rainforest in Latin America.

According to the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, deforestation caused principally by industrial-scale agriculture, mining, oil extraction and the building of infrastructure and roads resulted in an annual loss of approximately 370,000 acres of forest (150,000 hectares) between 1990 and 2000 

The Peruvian Amazon is the area of the Amazon rainforest included within the country of Peru, from east of the Andes to the borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia. This region comprises 60% of the country and is marked by a large degree of biodiversity. Peru has the second-largest portion of the Amazon rainforest after the Brazilian Amazon.

The Peruvian Amazon is traditionally divided into two distinct eco-regions:

The lowland jungle  is also known as Omagua region, Walla, Anti, Amazonian rainforest or Amazon basin. This ecoregion is the largest of Peru, standing between 80 and 1,000 meters above sea level. It has very warm weather with an average temperature of 28 °C, high relative humidity (over 75%) and yearly rainfall of approximately 260 cm (100 in). Its soils are very heterogeneous, but almost all have river origins. Because of high temperatures and high rainfall, they are poor soils with few nutrients.

The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, the Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve and the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area are within the forest.
The highland jungle  is also called Pupa Pupa region, Andean jungle, ceja de selva. This ecoregion extends into the eastern foothills of the Andes, between 1,000 to 3,800 m above the sea level. The eastern slopes of the Andes are home to a great variety of fauna and flora because of the different altitudes and climates within the region. Temperatures are warm in the lowlands and cooler in higher altitudes. There are many endemic fauna because of the isolation caused by the rugged terrain of the area.

Over the last decades illegal logging has become a serious problem in the Peruvian Amazon. In 2012 the World Bank estimated that 80% of Peru’s timber exports are illegally harvested,

This uncontrolled deforestation could negatively affect the habitats of indigenous tribes, the Peruvian biodiversity and of course the climate change. Moreover illegal deforestation might lead to more violent crimes. This has already been demonstrated on the 1st of September 2014, when four indigenous leaders were murdered, including the famous environmental activist Edwin Chota. These leaders were asking for governmental protection against illegal loggers, after being threatened several times. Partly due to this, illegal loggers are being blamed for the assassination.

In an attempt to support local incomes in the Amazon, the Peruvian government granted non-transferable contracts to individual farmers to perform small-scale logging activities. Soon however, big logging companies started paying individual loggers for the use of their contracts and established an illegal, large-scale logging industry.
In 2000 Peru modified the Forestry and Wildlife Law in order to improve the logging sector. In the subsequent years however, the situation in the Peruvian timber industry only deteriorated. To some extent this can be explained by the fact that Brazil illegalised the exports of mahogany (one of the most valuable and endangered types of wood in the world) from 2001 on.This Brazilian ban is likely to have caused the increase in Peruvian mahogany exports. 

Soon after the ban, international institutions revealed their severe concerns about the state of the Peruvian timber industry. In particular the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), started paying extra attention to Peru as the trade in mahogany falls under CITES’ regulation. 
Albeit the fact that from then on, one needed special permits for harvesting and exporting any endangered species, the forestry sector was still far from sustainable. 

The international attention levels increased again in 2007, when Peru and the United States (US) agreed on a new Free Trade agreement (FTA), which was implemented in 2009. According to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) the FTA included a number of binding commitments to ensure environmental protection, focussing on the Peruvian forestry sector.

The FTA caused a lot of social unrest as indigenous groups expected the FTA to ‘give incentives for further and irreversible destruction of virgin rainforest.

Notwithstanding who was right, the FTA has not prevented illegal timber trade between Peru and the US. At least 35% of the Peruvian timber exports to the US between 2008 and 2010, contained illegal wood. This percentage however, only covers the trade in species that are regulated by the CITES. As only very few types of timber fall under this legislation, the real percentage of illegally harvested timber in Peru is assumed to be significantly higher.

Illegal Gold Mining

Illegal gold mining is rampant among the Madre De Dios region of Peru, and is extremely harmful to the environment. Individuals are mining more gold each year because of the exponential price hike in this commodity – a 360% surge in the last ten years.

 30,000 miners are estimated to be in operation without legal permits.

More mercury is being imported into the country than ever before for mining purposes because of the price increase. In mining, mercury is used to “amalgamate gold particles and then burned off – generally without even rudimentary technology”. 

The import of mercury for this purpose is shown through atmosphere and water pollution, directly impacting human, animal, and plant lives in the area and beyond. Much of this contamination is a result of lack of education by the people directly mining the gold in Peru.

Illegal Oil Extraction

Oil extraction is a key conservation threat in the Peruvian Amazon. While the land is set on a key area for oil, there are also many indigenous tribes living within the Amazon rainforest. For example, the Camisea Gas Project on Lot 88 houses numerous indigenous tribes, and impacts their lives greatly everyday

. Project Camisea has numerous economic benefits, including savings of up to $4 billion in energy costs, however the environmental and cultural payoffs are widespread. In 2008, 150,000 square kilometers was set aside for oil drilling in the Western Amazon, and today that number has grown exponentially to over 730,000 square kilometers Direct destruction and deforestation often comes from the creation of access roads for oil and gas extraction. These roads then become catalysts for other illegal industries such as logging and gold mining 

The plot of land where Camisea is located is on one of the most highly prioritized areas for biodiversity and conservation. In addition, these oil extraction projects impact the country through: fish stock decline, deforestation, pollution, disease and death of indigenous people, and roads and migration. The World Wildlife Federation concluded that the government has very little power over these oil sanctions, and there are countless loopholes in the policy, which makes stopping the in Peru extraction extremely difficult.

An estimated 1,300 indigenous communities inhabit over 29.6 million acres (12 million hectares) of forest in the Peruvian Amazon, providing an enormous opportunity for the involvement of local people in the active management of the country's forests.

In recent years, the Peruvian government has granted large energy concessions in ecologically-sensitive areas including a December 2005 development deal with China National Petroleum Corporation. The $83 million agreement covered 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) of forest in the state of Madre de Dios Region, an area home to more than 10 percent of the world's bird species and a popular destination for eco-tourists. 

In the 1980s and 1990s extensive areas in the Andean foothills were cleared for coca plantations. Falling coca leaf prices and eradication efforts by the government cut the area under cultivation from 115,300 hectares in 1995 to 31,150 hectares in 2003. Soybean cultivation is expanding in the lowlands as is land clearing for cattle pasture. Generally, fires are used for land clearing for agriculture in Peru. In dry years, these fires can burn out of control and spread into pristine forests. 

Over 62 million hectares (240,000 square miles) of forest across Latin America — an area roughly the size of Texas or the United Kingdom — were cleared for new croplands and pastureland between 2001 and 2013, find a study published in Environmental Research Letters

Who is behind these large deforestation ? Power plants that use wood? Over population? A person or an organization?

Forests and Water

To tackle a looming water crisis, the city of Lima, Peru, is planning a series of green infrastructure projects, including the restoration of an ancient network of aqueducts in the mountains above the city.

With a rapidly growing population of around 8.75 million Lima is the world's second largest desert city, and no stranger to water shortages. Three main watersheds supply the city, supplemented by additional water transported in from across the Andes.

 The city currently faces a water deficit of 43 million cubic meters per year, even though it receives more than enough water during its extremely rainy December-through-May wet season to meet its needs year round. 

Lima's water utility, SEDAPAL (Servicio de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de Lima) is also considering reforestation projects and the restoration of ancient terraces, she said. 

But perhaps the most unusual intervention on the table is the repair of ingenious, centuries-old canals called amunas that were carved into the mountainsides sometime before the rise of the Incan empire in the 15th century. 

It is unclear which pre-Incan culture first built the amunas. Subsequent cultures maintained them through the centuries and local communities still operate some of them today, but many have been abandoned and require repair,


By far the most affordable option, however, is to revive the ancient system of amunas on the sides of the Andes mountains. Built by the Wari people several hundred years before the Inca civilization, these channels and pools are more than just an archaeological curiosity. 
It turns out that the Wari were surprisingly adept city planners, especially when it came to getting water during the dry season.
Amunas can have many forms, ranging from narrow trenches, to pools and even sometimes to structures that look like walls. Despite these structural differences, their purpose is uniform. All amunas are designed to keep rainfall from flowing immediately downhill. Instead, the amunas guide rainwater across the mountainsides, allowing the ground to absorb more and replenishing the water table.
Re-grouting the amunas with concrete will cost about $23 million, much less than any other plan offered. A study by CONDESAN and Forest Trends, a Washington, DC-based NGO specializing in green infrastructure, estimates that reviving the amunas could increase Lima’s water supply by 26 million cubic meters and decrease the dry season water deficit by as much as 60 percent.

This solution comes at an opportune time. Lima’s population is expected to grow past 10 million by 2030, according to a U.N. report. The growing population combined with the increasing threats of climate change make access to water that much more crucial. If Lima can solve its water problem, it will serve as a great teacher for other cities faced with water challenges.






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