Resilience Dispatch #15: “Build Back Better?” Peru’s Already Doing It.

Mar 1, 2021
Peruvian Ministers, the Chairman of the Board of Lima’s water utility, and local authorities from the community of Carampoma celebrate new restoration investments at a ceremony this week at the Milloc wetlands.

In this edition

Talk about building back better!

Michael Jenkins

As spring returns in the northern hemisphere, and it looks like we are beginning to turn the corner on the pandemic in terms of new vaccinations, here is one more thing to celebrate.

On Monday in the mountains outside Lima, Peru, three national Ministers joined the leadership of Lima’s water utility and community leaders from Carampoma to “lay the first piece of earth” on a project to restore the Milloc wetlands, an important ecosystem that has been degraded in recent years by illegal peat extraction.

It’s been a long time coming. Our program in Peru began in 2010 with an Incubator for Ecosystem Services. We supported the Ministry of Environment and Peru’s national water regulator on groundbreaking law and regulatory reforms that allow water utilities to spend their funds on natural infrastructure. We developed cost-benefit curves — the first of their kind — to show Lima’s water utility how simple interventions like wetland restoration (i.e., “natural infrastructure”) could deliver water security at a fraction of the cost of major new public works like desalination plants (e.g., conventional infrastructure).

These advances laid the groundwork for a $130 million public funding mechanism in 2015 to drive investments in natural infrastructure for water security and climate resilience. In 2018, USAID and the Government of Canada made a major $27.5 million commitment to the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project in Peru to build on these efforts, led by Forest Trends together with Condesan, SPDA. EcoDecision and Imperial College London.

It’s one thing to pass a law or award a grant to transform a country’s water sector. Believe me, it’s another thing to actually transform a country’s water sector. This is what we’ve been doing with our partners for the past three years: building coalitions, scientific evidence, technical capacity, and a portfolio of investment-ready projects.

Today Lima’s water utility already has another 7 projects on deck after Milloc (with 12 more in the oven), and we’ve built a national pipeline that could move $175M in investments in 16 watersheds across Peru in the coming years. Nature will be a crucial part of the conversation for new water infrastructure,  disaster mitigation, and climate resilience investments at both the local and national level, permanently. Talk about building back better! I think the rest of the world, including the United States where I live, has much to learn from Peru’s leadership.

Changing our water culture is as much a question of changing hearts as minds. None of this works if communities are not a part of this process. To celebrate World Water Day, our team has also launched a virtual photographic exhibition on “Women and Water,” and commissioned original artwork from some of Peru’s best artists on the theme of nature and water. These works serve as a powerful reminder of why this work is so urgent. Scroll down to see them, and enjoy.

Be well,


In high style: Natural infrastructure gains momentum in Peru, 4000 meters above sea level

Gena Gammie, Deputy Chief of Party, Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project, and Associate Director, Forest Trends’ Water Initiative

I remember participating in a panel convened for World Water Day a few years ago, when the discussion turned to the barriers to scaling up investment in natural infrastructure for water.

“You can’t inaugurate an investment in nature the way you do with the construction of a large gray infrastructure project,” pointed out one expert. “Ecosystems will always be at a disadvantage without the visibility of conventional infrastructure.”

Today, if I were to see this colleague, I would tell him that there’s one less barrier for natural infrastructure.

Monday, March 22, World Water Day, was, indeed, a happy day. A ceremony was held where the first champa (high Andean peat) was placed to break ground on a pioneering restoration project in the basin that supplies Lima and Callao. The project is financed by millions of water users, who pay a monthly fee in their water bill to protect water at its source.

The Peruvian Ministry of Environment (MINAM) and its partners (including the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project, led by Forest Trends) have been working hard for years to make Peru’s public investment system also work to protect and restore nature.

The engineers, accountants, and managers of Lima’s water company (SEDAPAL) had to learn something completely new: how to restore an ecosystem. In fact, this structural change is happening throughout Peru’s water sector.

Keep reading at the Forest Trends blog.

Virtual gallery: Women and Water

Take a tour through the coast, highlands, and forests of Peru in an exploration of women and their powerful relationship with water. This virtual exhibition, released to celebrate World Water Day, includes a selection of award-winning photography and the stories behind each photograph.

See a mini-tour below, or visit the full gallery here (in Spanish).


Press coverage of the “Women and Water” virtual exhibition in Peru.

Three artists’ take on nature-based solutions

The Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project recently commissioned three well-known Peruvian artists to present work on the connections between water and nature.  The three works have been created by Fito Espinosa (Lima), Natalya Eddem Lizárraga (Cusco) and Rember Yahuarcani (Loreto) in response to the theme, “Water lives in ecosystems.”

As Jene Thomas, Director of USAID in Peru put it, “Today we need art, science and politics to join forces in favor of water.”

Works by Rember Yahuarcani, Fito Espinosa, and Natalya Eddem Lizárraga.