EWB-AUS Tackles Peruvian Adaptation Challenges
The Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN) honored four organizations leading adaptation efforts on the ground in its inaugural awarding of the GAIN Prize. Four groups – Engineers Without Borders-USA, Austin Chapter; MEDA; Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING); and Ushahidi received the 2012 GAIN Prize. We are honored to introduce you to Engineers Without Borders-USA, Austin Chapter.
The GAIN Prizes are the first given to recognize those organizations and entrepreneurs that are working on innovative projects and successfully tested technologies that will help the most vulnerable adapt to the changing global climate, GAIN’s founding mission. These Prizes, which were awarded at the GAIN Annual Reception May 9, honor the shoulder-to-shoulder work with communities through a monetary award and recognition to promote continued development of innovative adaptation solutions.
Climate Adaptation in Mountain Basins in the Andean Region (CAMBIAR)
Communities around the world are affected by a changing climate – with the poorest communities burdened by a disproportionate impact. While concerted worldwide effort to mitigate carbon emissions and climate change on a global scale stalls, many poor communities are left with limited options to respond to climate variations. Migration to cities from rural communities, for example, has further stressed aging urban infrastructure. As a result, billions of people around the world lack the tools, knowledge and infrastructure to access the resources they need to survive. Never has it been so crucial to combine both mitigation and adaptation strategies within the global climate change agenda.
The Greater Austin chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-AUS), through its Climate Adaptation in Mountain Basins in the Andean Region (CAMBIAR) program has partnered with impoverished, rural communities in the Ancash region of Peru to address imminent, water-related adaptation issues. The high population density along Peru’s western coast where water resources are scarce makes those Peruvians extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Only 2 percent of the country’s water resources are stored in a location where 70 percent of the population resides .
Of the 187 countries with vulnerability rankings in the GAIN Index, Peru is 103 on the list  . In Ancash, millions of agrarian villagers in rural communities in the upper tributaries of the Santa River valley must deal with shifting seasonal precipitation patterns and altered tropical glacial melt. These phenomena impact local availability of water in terms of quantity and quality; reduce potable sources; and decreases crop yields for farmers and ranchers who struggle to maintain adequate irrigation supplies.
Twenty-five municipal districts in the Ancash region have proactively formed the Tres Cuencas Commonwealth, an organization that addresses water and climate issues within the three watersheds (cuencas) that feed the region. In establishing themselves as a nationally recognized entity, the Commonwealth has initiated steps at the local and national levels to tackle its water challenges. However, the Commonwealth also lacks the financial and technical resources to develop strategies to address these community-scale water issues. Therefore, the priority of the CAMBIAR program is to help communities in the Commonwealth adapt to climate change, specifically focused on water-related challenges, through community driven collaboration and engineering.
EWB-AUS and The Mountain Institute (TMI), an international NGO, have partnered to implement new technologies and conservation practices that address water and climate issues in the Commonwealth. EWB-AUS contributes to these projects by: 1) providing technical support for communities to further assess and prioritize their needs, 2) collaborating with communities to design and implement sustainable technical solutions, 3) training communities to conduct maintenance and repairs, 4) educating community members about the system’s health and societal benefits and 5) monitoring long-term project status.
The CAMBIAR program is currently helping Huasta, a municipal district within the Commonwealth, implement a water reuse and irrigation project that will increase water availability while reducing the presence of harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites in the community’s watershed. The Huasta project goals are to renovate an existing wastewater treatment plant while reclaiming the effluent for use as irrigation water on a community pastureland. Improvements to irrigation practices and infrastructure, such as closed-channel pipes and furrow irrigation, will help reduce reliance on existing, unpredictable surface water resources.
The CAMBIAR program has completed an initial assessment in Huasta through relationship building with key community members, characterizing the state of the wastewater treatment plant and gathering data to design conveyance and irrigation infrastructure. EWB-AUS will return to the community in summer 2012 to formalize operational responsibilities and complete the renovation of the treatment plant. Through pilot projects like these, the CAMBIAR program will build local adaptation capacity, community resilience to changes in the environment and promote a sustainable model for technical, community-based development projects.
Please visit gain.org to track EWB-AUS’s progress and read other innovative adaptation solutions taking place around the world. Visit the GAIN Index website at index.gain.org.
Photo 1. The wastewater treatment plant in Huasta
Photo 2. The CAMBIAR program signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth
 WWF Peru. (2009). Climate Programme: Reducing our vulnerability. Austria.
 Global Adaptation Institute. (2012). GaIn: Global Adaptation Index. Retrieved April 11, 2012, from http://index.gain.org/