Lima Running Dry – Promoting Water Culture in the Second Driest Capital of the World

The Peruvian coast is one of the driest deserts in the world; only two percent of the water resources in the country are located in coastal areas.  Lima, Peru’s capital is a particular worry.  It is built on a desert, has a population of more than eight million, and receives hardly any rainfall.  According to some studies it is the second driest capital in the world after Cairo (e.g. The National Environmental Council, CONAM). The city gets most of its water from the Rio Rimac and two other rivers with sources high in the Andes. Currently, more than 1 million people are not connected to the city’s water utility network because of the increase of peri-urban population and lack of utility’s capacity to undertake investments to cope with increased demand. Increased demand together with the climate change and melting tropical glaciers will cause severe water scarcity in Lima already by 2025, several experts warn.

However, study results of people's perceptions suggest that people in Lima seem not to take seriously predictions that one day this century a barrel of water will cost more than a barrel of oil. Based on the results of this study, The Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation and the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) along with IDB, JICA, SDC, and RPP Radio Network launched an initiative called “Culture of Water.” The initiative aims to promote 1) reasonable use of water, 2) willingness to pay proper water tariffs and 3) raise environmental conscience among target audiences.

According to the perception study the water culture in Lima is nearly non-existent. The respondents of the study represent Lima’s middle class population with different educational background, but what they all have in common is that they do have water connection in their homes. The main target group of the study was young people between ages 12 and 30. The study results suggest that people seem not to take seriously predictions that one day during this century a barrel of water will cost more than a barrel of oil. According to the study, people do not fear water scarcity, water pollution or global warming. This, in turn, implies they lack sufficient and correct information on matters related to water. There seems to be little knowledge regarding water resources or degradation of water systems. Purely economic valuation of water seems to overlook often social aspects and environmental considerations, such as the role of water flows in maintaining ecosystem integrity. Although the prices of water were seen as reasonable compared to other household bills such as phone or electricity, only a few people would be willing to pay more for water even if water quality would improve. The study also shows that teenagers and adolescents tend to be more conscious and positive towards environmental issues than young adults. 

As part of the efforts to promote water culture in Peru, The Ministry conducted a national writing competition for the school children on water. The best 50 stories and tales were published on World Water Day on March 22, in a book called, “Mitos y Leyendas del agua en el Peru” . WSP and the World Bank gave assistance and finance for publishing and disseminating the book.  Also as part of the water culture initiative WSP and the World Bank together with the Ministry arranged a 2-day capacity building for journalists on the culture of water as part of a World Water Day celebration.  Field visits to relevant case study sites enriched the learning process through interviews with experts and dialogues with civil society, local authorities and other stakeholders.  The communication strategy included also radio spots, TV-programs and TV- advertisements to disseminate messages. WSP participated in developing radio spots; in addition the regional team leader was interviewed on radio and Television programs.    

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Yehude Simon
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