If rivers could speak
If rivers could speak, what stories would they tell? If rivers could speak, how could we best listen to what they want to say?
In November 2022, we visited Iquitos, Peru for scoping fieldwork. In this scoping fieldwork, we wanted to start conversations and ask about how communities experienced previous droughts and floods, more specifically what they did to prepare and to adapt, and how such events impacted their communities. Here, we take you on a journey of what we found and heard during our visit to communities who depend on the Amazon river.
We visited communities from Belén, Punchana, and Tamshiyacu. These areas are three different districts in the Loreto region which is home to families relying on different sources of livelihood, and who rely on the Amazon river for transportation, food, and as a way of life.
During our transect walk in Belén, representatives from Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología del Perú (SENAMHI) (National Meteorology and Hydrology Service of Peru) shared how some flood events can last up to six months. During these months, communities have to use boats to go around, and use schools as evacuation centers. The communities also experienced different issues such as piling up of solid waste, and emergence of diseases like dengue and malaria.
This is an example of floating houses in Belén. Several community members who live closer to the river started building floating houses, so that they don’t need to evacuate nor to keep building taller stilts to protect themselves and their belongings during flood events.
In Punchana, we held a focus group discussion with 11 women representatives who shared their experiences about previous flood and drought events. In 2013, there was a major flood and this prompted the local government to ask communities to relocate to a new area farther from the city. Several community members considered this option, however the proposed relocation area only had minimal access to social services and facilities like schools and clinics. Community members explored other options to augment issues with potable water such as making and using pozos (wells), buying water from containers, and maximizing the three available communal faucets.
In Tamshiyacu, several households earn from agricultural activities such as planting rice along riverbanks, and intercropping of different fruit trees. However, sudden river peaks during the dry season impact the rice areas planted along the riverbanks. The communities are also impacted by the extended dry season. The extended dry season causes increasing cases of forest fires and also impacts the fishing activities.
How do we continue listening
These are only snippets of how the Amazon river has shaped people’s ways of living. As part of the PerfectSTORM project, we are interested to better understand and unpack water-human relationships, especially in the context of living with drought and flood. This April to July, we will continue to listen to communities who have seen the rivers change and who have lived with its extremes. We will also continue to explore ways of listening to the rivers. To do so, the fieldwork will focus on using ethnographic approaches such as storytelling and transect walks to enable stories and narratives to emerge.
Eventually, we hope to share with you what stories the Amazon river might tell, and how living with(out) waters has been like for communities in the area.
If you are interested to helpIf you or someone you know also works in Iquitos, Perú on a similar or related topic, you can send us an email to Heidi Mendoza (firstname.lastname@example.org).