Guaranteeing equitable access to water, energy and food (WEF) resources will be critical for the wellbeing of rural and urban populations in Amazonia. This includes ensuring that services are of consistent quality and quantity for all. To achieve the target of equitable WEF security, a greater understanding of the interactions, interdependencies and trade-offs between these resource systems is required. This blog is the first of a series on WEF security in the Cumbaza watershed in Peru.
A Nexus case study of the city of Tarapoto and the Cumbaza River watershed in the Peruvian Amazon sheds light on the key socio-ecological determinants of access to WEF systems and further evidences the key role of forest ecosystems in building resilience.
WEF Nexus in the Cumbaza Watershed
In the Cumbaza watershed, 58% of forest lands were lost between 1977 and 2005. The remaining forest land (8524 hectares or 15% of the watershed surface), and key sources of fresh water (the Cumbaza river and its tributaries), are located in the upper fringes of the watershed.
Four Kichwa-Lamas indigenous communities (Alto Shambuyacu, Aviación, Chirikyacu, Chunchiwi) and the Cordillera Escalera Regional Conservation Area manage these forests.
In the lower part of the watershed, associations of smallholder rice and fish farmers currently account for 90% of water withdrawals; followed by urban households and agro-industries in Tarapoto.
Local irrigation-fed agriculture is affected by inefficient water infrastructure and associated water loss, which accounts for almost 50% of total water abstracted. In urban areas, access to public water services (through EMAPA) is largely determined by the sustainability of forest ecosystem services in the upper part of the watershed; these are increasingly under stress from urbanization, migration and agricultural development in the San Martin region.[iv]
The erosion that results from deforestation, particularly during water level surges,[v] has increased sedimentation loads in rivers, which in turn affects water treatment facilities for urban water consumption. Urban WEF security is clearly reliant on forest ecosystems elsewhere.
In the rural, upper parts of the watershed, the loss of forest resources jeopardizes local WEF security in different ways.
Among Kichwa indigenous communities forests underpin WEF security. They are an important source of fuelwood for energy among 95% of families (compared to 29% among urban households); forests also provide multiple important sources of food through the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and hunting, and agroforestry and subsistence farming systems. They are essential in supplying drinking water.
However, ongoing resource degradation, market integration and shifts from subsistence to cash-crop farming are changing the ways these communities access water, energy and food resources.
Local indigenous households are increasingly reliant on public services and income from cash crops such as bananas, coffee, and cacao, and increasingly other traditional NTFPs, to purchase food products. These trends are linked to changing consumption patterns, for example increased demand for processed and imported food products by rural communities, and growing food demands from Tarapoto.[vi]
Building resilience in the WEF Nexus
Climate change will cause additional changes to market dynamics and infrastructure access. Recognising significant variations in resource distribution and differentiated risks in accessing WEF resources will be vital for building resilience, especially among marginal and poor populations.
In the Cumbaza watershed, it will be important that efforts to build WEF security acknowledge the role and contributions of existing forest-based livelihoods and local community resource management regimes in determining the sustainability of forest ecosystems; which in turn will affect access to vital water resources among downstream urban dwellers and agriculture activities.[vii]
Recent green finance and infrastructure policy responses in the region (e.g. a water PES scheme and watershed management platforms — CGMC, and public finance projects[viii]) can incentivise that link and build resilience across WEF sectors and urban-rural environments. Such mechanisms can determine whether the natural ecosystems underpinning WEF security are maintained and their products distributed equitably.
As next steps, we need to understand how these institutions, policies, and underlying power relations shape decisions and outcomes that affect equitable WEF access. This blog series will develop these ideas as it reflects the work of the ‘Strengthening climate resilient development in rural-urban landscapes’ work. This project is part of a programme called Climate Resilient Cities in Latin America supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, and the International Development Research Centre of Canada.
This piece was written by Sonja Bleeker, David Sabogal, Helen Bellfield, Alex Morrice and Stuart Singleton-White.