Friday, September 10, 2010

Peru water wars threaten farm export boom

Emily Schmall in Planet Ark: The World Bank, which has lent millions of dollars to turn Peru's fragile desert coast into verdant farmland, has stumbled into a film noir scene straight out of Roman Polanski's 'Chinatown' about the violent water wars of 1930s Los Angeles. When a World Bank employee went in April to investigate complaints that loans made by its private sector arm had hastened the drying up of the Ica aquifer, he was shot at by gunmen after he spotted land pockmarked by clandestine wells.

Though the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation have been involved in a more sustainable project in northern Peru that uses water from the Amazon to irrigate fields, its work with well water in Ica has put it in the middle of a vexing problem.

Peru is South America's third-largest country and a top exporter of high-value specialty crops like asparagus. Farmers say it could become a breadbasket like Brazil or Argentina, well-positioned to feed a growing global population. But it suffers from acute water shortages on its Pacific Ocean coast and they are expected to worsen as its ice fields in the Andes, the world's largest collection of tropical glaciers, melt because of climate change.

In Ica, where there is little control over who pumps water, the aquifer could dry up before the government comes up with a plan to pipe in rainwater from the Andes or the Amazon as it has done in northern Peru. "People talk about the land and how valuable it is. But it's the water," says Jorge Checa, who co-manages Agricola Athos, a 600-hectare asparagus and grape farm in Ica….

A farm in Peru, shot by Alfredo Bianco

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