When I visited Huanchaco in the North of Peru recently as part of my work with Habitat Pro, one of the things I was most looking forward to was visiting the totora ponds or totorales. These ponds are where the reeds grow that the artesan fishermen use to make their fishing boats – an ancient Mochica Chimu tradition that has been passed down for thousands of years. However, when I went to see the ponds, I was shocked and saddened to see so much rubbish in and around them. How could anyone throw rubbish in such an important area?
When I asked the fishermen about the rubbish, they told me that many households who live south of Huanchaco, particularly in the zone of Buenos Aires, come and dump their waste there because the only tip is far away, and that they must pay to use it. This rubbish dumping has a destructive impact on the fishermen community, as the rubbish contiminates the water in the ponds, so the totora cannot grow properly. This is one of many factors which threaten the continuation of this ancient fishing practice.
The reed boat fishing tradition is sustainable, environmentally friendly and leaving no carbon footprint. In addition to this, the cultivation of totora helps to balance groundwater, helping to maintain the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the area. It is such a shame, therefore, that bad environmental management is threatening the continuation of such a sustainable practice.
Sadly, the problem of littering and rubbish dumping is not unique to Huanchaco. In Peru, it is very common to see litter on the streets and in parks and beaches; there simply are not enough bins provided and not enough education on how this is detrimental for the environment. Rubbish is contaminating Peru’s oceans which people depend on for their livelihoods, including many Indigenous Peoples.
It is clear that something must be done. Currently, Peru’s poor waste infrastructure is unable to cope with the amount of rubbish that is being produced, and most local municipalites do not have the resources to manage all of the rubbish. Only very few districts have a recycling system. A better waste management system must be put in place, so rubbish is disposed of safely and not contaminating the environment. Additionally, more litter bins must be provided and a small fine for those who do not use them, to discourage people from dropping litter.
Finally, a national campaign is needed to teach people the damage that littering causes to the environment, to change the commonly held belief that dropping litter is an aceptable thing to do. There are many NGOs working to tackle this problema at a local level, but a national effort is needed.
There is a real urgency to act on this issue. I was deeply saddened to see such an important area for the livelihood and culture of the Mochica Chimu people littered with rubbish, and it is essential that this does not continue to happen in the future.