Photo credits: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Climate change is causing water to become increasingly scarce in the Andean highlands, but water shortages are not a completely new challenge in these arid regions. The indigenous Aymara and Uru peoples, who have been cultivating highland soils since before the arrival of the Inca empire, are aware that access to water is necessary for the survival of their cultures and food systems. For this reason, within a value system that gives rivers and lakes an inherent worth, they have given a ritual and spiritual value to the various tasks associated with water provision.
In the Puno region of the Peruvian highlands, Aymara ancestral practices have been a source of inspiration for projects relating to water provision. This is because the Aymara traditionally give a ritual value to wells, and treat every aspect of well with care, from drilling to maintenance, as a sacred act. Across the border, in the arid Oruro region of the Bolivian highlands, the Uru Chipayas rely on a long canal to provide irrigation to their crops. Each family is required to maintain a section of the canal, rebuilding damaged parts and removing waste in order to permit water flow. The job is carried out under the supervision of a political and religious authority known as Qhas Sirino, or “water judge”, who is in charge of ensuring that each of the villages receives its fair share of this vital resource.