Unesco Green Citizens

Punas-Agua: Promoting citizen innovations in Peru

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Project begin: 10/08/2012

Punas y Agua is a citizen-led initiative responding to the challenge of climate change by developing solutions to water quality problems and water management issues with local communities in Peru. Through participative action-research, Punas y Agua secures communities’ traditional water sources and allows them to carry on living in harmony with their traditions.
Solutions are holistic responses that include technological, social and cultural components that support the sustainability of solutions.

The core approach of the project is the application of participatory action research methods:

– Define the problem precisely with the participation of as broad as possible representatives of the community’s women and men

– Organize and train the community and local researchers to conduct research

– Conduct field experiments, evaluate the best possible solutions

– Share results with the community and other stakeholders

– Implement the solutions with the community

– Evaluate results and continue conducting research to improve solutions.

Punas-Agua has developed solutions to water quality problems as well as livestock and grassland management problems. The approaches developed under the Punas-Agua have been replicated in other areas and through other projects implemented by Instituto de Montaña.


Leading organisation: Instituto Andino de Montaña (a.k.a Instituto de Montaña)
Covered Countries: Peru
Theme: Biodiversity, Hydrology, Indigenous and Local Knowledge
Sub-themes: Environment, Health, Knowledge sharing, Natural resource management, Rural areas, Sustainable lifestyles, Sustainable living, Water resource management, Water scarcity and quality
Tag: #Youth
Selection: 2020
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Initial Problem

The initial problem was a demand from mountain communities to secure their traditional sources of water in the context of rapidly receding glaciers and significant changes in precipitation patterns. In addition to changes in the amount of water availability, mountain communities also faced the problem of the decreasing quality of freshwater coming from mountain glaciers (as evidenced in the poor performance of crops irrigated with this water and human health problems). Securing water in highland pasture lands (locally known as puna) also required work in livestock management practices to protect the ecosystems that regulate water flow. We found support to design and implement a project to tackle this problem from the McKnight Foundation. The project is initiating its 4th phase of support.

The positive impacts that the project has made

The restoration of water sources has brought a lot of positive outcomes :

– The restoration of water quality through natural and low-cost methods. Abandoned irrigation areas recovered

– The replication of the remediation technology on a large scale in neighbouring irrigation systems

– The participatory action research groups evolved into a regional network of multiple communities

– Improved rangeland management has increased water retention and flows from high altitude grassland areas

– In Junin and Lima regions, communities have brought back to life ancestral methods to store rainwater underground and also improved rangeland management as a strategy to improve water security for communities

The impacted areas and population

Their work has allowed upper areas of Santa river watershed (25,000 people) and upper and middle areas of Cañete river watershed (5,600 people) to access water. It has also involved local undergraduate students reorientating their careers to contribute to solving environmental and natural resource management problems with the active participation of local communities and local knowledge.

The approaches developed under the Punas-Agua have been replicated in other areas and through other projects implemented by Instituto de Montaña.

The obstacles and challenges

– Climate change impacts are moving targets: they began with a problem posed by communities that were centered on securing water supply and evolved to a priority on fixing water quality. They overcame this situation by trusting local knowledge and their priorities.

– Participatory Action Research dealing with natural resources is a process that requires long-term process prior to observing results and scaling up. Funding for projects is short term (1-2 years). The solution was to focus on local solutions that can mature in relatively short periods of time.

– Complex social dynamics affect mountain communities (e.g. migration of youth and male workforce drains human resources) and can have impacts on the dissemination and adoption of solutions. They invested time to understand the context, so that solutions are properly adapted to social needs that vary from one community to the next one.

News & updates

28 October 2020

Twenty-five sites join UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves

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