1500-year-old canals of Wari culture to be revived in attempt to solve Lima water crisis
Peru has been facing a severe water crisis as chronic problems, such as polluted water supplies, and environmental change combine to undermine the water security of the entire country. However, a new plan has been put forward by Lima’s water utility company, Sedapal, to revive an ancient network of stone canals that were built by the Wari culture as early as 500 AD, in order to supply the population with clean, unpolluted water.
Peru’s highly populated arid Pacific coast depends on water from glacial melt to compensate for the region’s lack of rainfall, but Peru’s glaciers have been retreating at a rapid and increasing rate, leaving many areas without adequate access to water. Lima’s failing public water system has been unable to address the problem, and privatization has been the preferred formula of the government for fixing the deficiencies – a move that is widely unpopular with the majority of the Peruvian people.
Paying for water delivered by truck is part of the daily routine for many inhabitants in Peru. Credit: Matt McGrath / BBC
All that may be about to change, as Lima’s water utility company has decided to look to the ancient past for solutions to the modern-day problems.
New Scientist reports that “researchers have discovered that the most cost-effective way is to revive a system of ancient stone canals, known locally as amunas, that were built in the Andes by the Wari culture between AD 500 and 1000, centuries before the rise of the Incas”.
The Wari (Spanish: Huari) civilization flourished in the Andean highlands and forged a complex society widely regarded today as ancient Peru’s first empire. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities of the time. Relatively little is known about the Wari because no written record remains, although thousands of archaeological sites reveal much about their lives, including the fact that they were great urban planners.
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The Wari built an advanced water conservation system that captured mountain water during the rainy season via canals. The canals transported the water to places where it could feed into springs further down the mountain, in order to maintain the flow of the rivers during the dry season.
The remnants of a Wari-made canal. Credit: Condesan via New Scientist
The ancient canals left by the Wari are in a state of disrepair, but Condesan, a Lima-based non-governmental organization, has said that re-grouting the amunas with cement would allow them to resume their original purpose.
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The plan is to revive 50 ancient Wari canals, at an estimated cost of $23 million. Research conducted for the project suggests that this would increase Lima’s water supply by 26 million cubic meters, and reduce the city's current water deficit in the dry season by as much as 60 per cent.
According to Smithsonian, “Peru isn’t the only country turning to ancient water technologies as it tries to deal with a dry climate. An Indian man recently won what has been dubbed “the Nobel Prize for water” after bringing traditional rainwater reservoirs called johad to more than 1,000 villages in India.”
Featured image: An Inca-era water canal at Tipón, Peru ( Wikimedia Commons )