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An Inca-era water canal at Tipón, Peru

2000-year-old Canals Give Life to Lima as Ancient Structures Utilized to Solve 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, the city of Lima is now using a series of ancient canals and irrigation channels built by pre-hispanic cultures around 2,000 years ago, and extended by the Wari and the Inca, in order to supply the inhabitants with clean, unpolluted water, and to maintain parks and other public green areas.

In April, 2015, a new plan was put forward by Lima’s water utility company, Sedapal, to revive an ancient network of stone canals that were built by the Wari culture. EFE reports that pre-hispanic canals are now being utilized to serve the water needs of Lima.

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.

All that is changing now, as Lima’s water utility company is looking to the ancient past for solutions to modern-day problems.

Paying for water delivered by truck is part of the daily routine for many inhabitants in Peru.

Paying for water delivered by truck is part of the daily routine for many inhabitants in Peru. Credit: Matt McGrath / BBC

“The legacy of pre-hispanic canals built by the Lima culture and extended by the Wari, Ichma, and Inca today makes possible the existence of parks and other public green areas,” reports EFE researcher and journalist Javier Lizarzaburu, promoter of the campaign Millennial Lima [via El Espectador ].

“The development of each of the channels involved 2,000 years ago a topographical knowledge of the area and a perfect calculation that resulted in channels that descended on slopes that allowed them to stay the course without overflow and cause flooding,” added El Espectador.

The remnants of a Wari-made canal

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 allows them to resume their original purpose.

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.”

Lizarzaburu believes it is important that citizens are aware of how ancient technology is playing a role in meeting their modern needs, including placing posters announcing to park users that they enjoy these green areas thanks to the work done by prehistoric engineers.

"The channels of Lima, which are a pre-hispanic institution, continue to pay a service to a city that depends more than ever on the work of citizens who 2,000 years ago transformed the desert valleys and now can improve the lives of some nine million," Lizarzaburu said.

Featured image: An Inca-era water canal at Tipón, Peru ( Wikimedia Commons )

By: April Holloway

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