Friday, January 1, 2010

In Peru, Some People Migrate the Wrong Direction

Peru is home to the second-largest desert city in the world, ranked behind only Cairo. Lima, Peru, has some 9-millions in population, and is the 5th-largest city in South America. Yet like the majority of Peruvian cities, it is west of the majestic Andes mountain range, and situated in the coastal desert.

Astonishingly, in the coastal desert of Peru, there is a booming new industry, that of production of agriculture for export. Almost all of this is dependent on irrigation, though mostly that irrigation is of the traditional type, with little use of the modern drip irrigation of the type pioneered in Israel where it has "made the Negev bloom".

It's possible that the coastal-desert agricultural producers, increasingly plagued by water shortages, will quickly adapt and adopt these extremely efficient modern drip-irrigation methods. But what of the poor indigenous Quechua farmers of the high altitudes?
[ ... ]
"If the snow disappears, the people will disappear, too," Sánchez-Guardamino says. "If the snow disappears, we will be left without water. The pastures and the animals will disappear. Everything is interconnected. The problem of the melting of the glaciers is that the source of life is drying up."

Andean farmers struggle to understand the changes. Some say the mountains are turning black because they are angry or sad. Some blame pollution. Carmina Sicusta has another explanation.

"The earth itself is sick," she says.

Sicusta, 48, lives in Amaru, a village of small adobe houses on a mountainside above Pisaq, a picturesque town near Cusco that is best known for Inca ruins and a Sunday market that draw tourists from around the world.

In the past decade or so, Amaru's farmers have watched the pattern of hillside fields change. On the frigid hilltops, the tundra-like pasture suitable only for llamas is receding. Fields of grain blanket high hillsides that were once too cold for anything but animals. Families that used to own dozens of llamas now have only a handful.

"The earth is warming. The waters are warming. The springs are drying up," Sicusta says in Quechua, looking up from her weaving. "There is going to be a shortage of food. Our children will have less to eat."
[ ... ] ("Altered climate forces cultural shift high in Andes"), Fraser, Barbara, the Daily Climate, October 5, 2009, downloaded 2010 January 1

Some 2/3rds of Peru's 29-millions of people live on the western slopes of the Andes.

In the same way that eastward winds blow over mountains in the northern hemisphere, to drop most of their moisture on the western slopes or deposit it as snowpack near the peaks of the highest mountains, in the southern hemisphere the process is reversed. Westward winds crossing the immense height and length of the Andes mountain range -- the spine of all of South America -- rain out or build snowpack on the eastern side of the mountains.

Only 2 percent of the precipitation reaching Peru runs off to the west. On the eastern side of the mountains, as much as 80 inches per year may fall as rain. The greatest number of people live where there is the least water.

There a certain amount of speculation about ways to get some of that water east of the mountains to the west of the mountains:

[ ... ]
But plans to redistribute water by rerouting rivers or drilling through the Andes raise questions for which neither politicians nor scientists have easy answers. How much water can be piped from reservoirs in the Andean highlands or Amazonian cloud forest without damaging those ecosystems? Who has priority — thirsty cities or food producers? Subsistence farmers or export agribusinesses? Poor rural communities or revenue-generating mines? Agriculture or hydroelectricity?

[ ... ]
[T]he tension continues between export agribusinesses on Peru's southern coast and the small farmers upstream. Large-scale farmers on the coast have more efficient irrigation systems, but the profusion of wells is pumping water out of the aquifer nearly twice as fast as it can recharge, according to Javier Chiong of the Ministry of Agriculture in Ica.

Large farmers downstream are calling for a major infrastructure project to channel water from the highlands, dispersing some of it through canals in the desert to recharge the aquifer. Small farmers and llama herders upstream say the scheme could dry the Andean bogs, an ecosystem about which little hydrological data exist.

"There's a lack of planning," said Gotuzzo of the Farmers Association of Ica. "And it's the poor people who will suffer the most. The rich will be able to solve their problems."
[ ... ] ("Glaciers go, leaving drought, conflict and tension in Andes", Fraser, Barbara, the Daily Climate, May 19, 2009, downloaded 2010 January 1)

The award-winning film, Sin Nombre (Without Name) is a gripping depiction of some of the realities of Central America.

Despite no ongoing worries in Central America about the melting of tropical glaciers disrupting the water supply, there are still many reasons that people want to leave such places as Honduras and El Salvador.

This film does an excellent job of depicting the journey north, even as it explores young love between a teenage girl traveling to New Jersey with her father and uncle to meet and live with her step-family, and a young MS-13 gangster on the run from conflicts with his home "clique".

Yet really, the star of the show, in my opinion, is nothing but the journey, and the circumstances in which it takes place.

The train rolls north, packed to the roof and beyond with migrants. They face many perils, ranging from bribe-seeking border-patrols at the southern edge of Mexico, to gangs of thugs who board the train to rob the migrants. Aside from this, sanitation, food, water, all are in short supply.

Yet we see that an entire -- if generally disorganized and unregulated -- culture has sprung up along the tracks to do business with the migrants, whether or not the business is at the moment feeling charitable or predatory. One cannot help but be struck with the whole scale of the enterprise, from the numbers of people camped out at switching yards waiting for their train to come so that they can stow away aboard the northbound freight cars, to the numbers of the people supplementing their incomes by providing the necessities to the weary travelers (or preying upon them).

There's one thing I know about business and culture. There is generally an ability to scale up or scale down as the circumstances and the market demand for services may change.

In Central America, there's only one reasonable place to choose as a destination, it seems. That would be the US, or perhaps even Canada and points beyond, but the US is far more inviting and accommodating in so many ways.

For those in much of South America, however, there are the obvious local destinations. Even in Mexico, there is Mexico DF, with 20-millions of persons and growing all of the time.

In Peru, cities such as Lima are growing rapidly. Indeed, such extremely rapid and generally unplanned growth is a major characteristic of the large cities of Peru:
[...] [Italics mine -th] A third migratory pattern was that people invariably followed in the footsteps of relatives and fellow paisanos. Once a village had a few paisanos established in the city, they were soon followed by others. During the course of Peruvian migration, relatively few persons simply struck out on the migratory adventure alone. Thus, the society of migrants was not a collection of alienated "lost souls," but rather consisted of groups of people with contacts, social roles, and strong cultural and family ties.

This fact produced the fourth dimension of the Peruvian migratory process: the propensity of migrants to organize themselves into effective voluntary associations. The scale and pattern of these associations distinguished the process in Peru from that in most other countries. The organizations have taken several forms, but the two most outstanding examples are found in the squatter settlements and regional clubs that have proliferated in all the largest cities, particularly Lima. The process of urban growth in Lima has produced an urban configuration that conforms to no central plan. Without access to adequate housing of any type, and without funds or available loans, migrants set about developing their own solutions by establishing organizations of their own, occasionally under the sponsorship of APRA. They planned a takeover of unoccupied land at the fringes of the city and, with the suddenness and effectiveness of a military attack, invaded the property, usually on a Saturday night.

Once on the land, the migrants laid out plots with precision and raised temporary housing in a matter of hours. Called by the somewhat deprecatory term barriada, the shantytowns quickly developed both an infrastructural and a sociopolitical permanence, despite initial official disapproval and police harassment. At first, the land invasions and barriada formation provoked enormous unease among traditional limeЯos and especially in the halls of government. The barriadas were wildly characterized as dangerous slums by the Lima middle- and upper classes, which felt threatened by the squatters. Research by anthropologist JosИ Matos Mar Santos and others demonstrated beyond doubt, however, that these "spontaneous settlements" were, in fact, solutions to grave urban problems. Subsequent research by anthropologist Susan Lobo established that such settlements were civilly organized and rapidly assumed positive urban attributes under the squatters' own initiatives.

In 1990 there were over 400 of these large settlements surrounding Lima and Callao, containing at least half of Lima's population. Over time, many of them--such as San MartМn de Porres, Comas, and Pamplona Alta--had become new political districts within the province of Lima, with their own elected officials and political power. [... ]
("Peru: A Country Study", Hudson, Rex A ed., GPO for the Library of Congress, 1992, downloaded 2010 January 1)

I can't help but contrast and compare this with the eruption of spontaneous organizations along the migration routes into the USA, which in the last decade have successfully brought roughly one million people per year illegally into the US.

Will we see comparable settlement patterns when the millions of squatters comprising half of Lima's 9-million person population discover that they should have migrated some place that has plenty of water, instead of into a city in the desert that depends on rivers that depend on vanishing Andean glaciers?

More to come?