Projected and constructed scarcity
Dunbar, Katherine Wilson
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Climate change is currently a much debated topic across the globe, and this is no less the case in the Peruvian highlands, where it manifests largely as conflicts over water. Water resources for eastern Peru originate in the highlands from rainfall and seasonal glacial melt. Both of these sources are affected by increasing temperatures and other global climatic changes. The Cordillera Blanca, a segment of the Andes mountain range in north central Peru, is home to the largest contiguous area of tropical glaciation in the world, but its glacial peaks are rapidly receding and are in critical condition. The loss of glaciated peaks will cause dramatic changes in the amount of water in the hydrological cycle as seasonal runoff into river networks declines. Concurrently, rainfall, the region's other key water source, is becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable in both frequency and intensity. Increasing water scarcity is projected to be the consequence of climatic changes in the arid highland landscapes of Peru. Water scarcity is due to supply and demand changes in the hydrological cycle coupled with the consequences of human activities guided by the various valuations of water involved. In the Peruvian highlands, a critical obstacle for development has historically been and continues to be the irregular distribution of water. The difficulty with water distribution reflects physical and climatic circumstances (e.g., topographical complexity, glacial loss, and ENSO events) as well as political dimensions of conflicting valuations of water and tendencies toward privatization or centralized control that construct scarcity. The ability to respond effectively to water scarcity, whether projected or constructed, is complicated by the contradictions between agendas and actions that value water as an essential and profitable commodity. Though there are serious concerns about future decreases in river flow due to projected glacial loss, current water scarcity is more of an outcome of social and political dynamics, a constructed scarcity of increased diversions and demand for regional water supplies. This dissertation is organized around how the various scales of knowledge and political power interact through the highly engineered waterways of the Andes to aid or hinder responses to climate change.