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Development or Detriment? Government "Improvement" Programs in Quispillaccta

Alberto Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, was elected in 1990, vowing to improve Peru's economic conditions. Fujimori's improvements won him a second term and he's credited with improving economic conditions but, wide-spread poverty and substandard health services still exist. As Kavitha's article explains, many of these programs fail to consider the environments and cultural practices of the local people meant to benefit from the projects.

USAID, the World Bank, the UN Development Projects, the Peace Corps...all are noble causes, improving the world through development, right? Well, "Development" is a vague term usually used to describe projects aimed at bringing poorer areas up to first world standards. In some cases, development is good and is extremely helpful or necessary like projects aimed at bringing safe, drinkable water to villages, or building proper sewage or toilet facilities. Unfortunately, in all too many cases, "development" ends up being a failure, a very expensive failure, when it is treated like charity projects dictated from modern cities and brought to the village level. If local traditions and environments are not taken into consideration, a project intended to "improve the way of life" might end up useless or even a hindrance. This has been a very obvious problem here in the Quispillaccta region of Peru in the Central Highlands where Abeja and I have been living. The Fujimori government has been priding itself on vast improvements in Peru's economy and way of life. While it is true the economy has grown tremendously, very little, unfortunately, has changed for the poor majority of Peruvians who live in rural villages. For more on this, see my dispatch from last week: Corruption by Corporate Conquistadors.

All too often the few development projects the government has initiated have been shortsighted. Even though this is a democratic government and is supposed to represent the people, it is very disconnected and in reality does not know or understand how most rural Peruvians live. For example, here in the Quispillaccta region the Fujimori government has initiated a number of development projects which are now nothing more than curious, modern, and useless structures sitting the middle of these rural villages.

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The practices and concerns of the local people in Quispillaccta are often overlooked when planning government projects
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Yesterday, Abeja and I visited Cuchoquesera, one of the smaller villages of the region, and as we walked over the hill and arrived in site of the village, we were immediately surprised by what we saw. Unlike the other villages in Quispillaccta, Cuchoquesera consisted of neat rows of modern looking houses. As it turns out, the government built 60 new houses for the families to live in...complete with glass windows and metal roofs. Unfortunately, as we walked through the village we realized that most of the houses were empty! Our friends at ABA explained to us that since all Quispillacctans live by subsistent agriculture, they prefer to live by their farms and with their animals. So instead of living in these modern new houses, they continue to live in their small hay-roofed homes near their gardens and their stables. The few people that do come down to occasionally live in the government-built homes suffer from another problem that's a result of poor development. The residents of Quispillaccta still cook over wood fires, because they don't have access to gas or electricity. But these 60 new homes were built without chimneys, so the houses become extremely smoky, which is hazardous to proper breathing.

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for larger view
The government-funded reservoir, even today, remains empty during the wet season
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In another village across the river valley, the government built stables for the livestock to be kept in. They built strong, long-lasting brick structures but unfortunately laid them with concrete floors. The concrete stayed too cold and the horses, sheep, and cows were freezing at night and the animals were moved back out to their hay pastures. Yet again, a village was left with empty brick fixtures they can't use.

The Fujimori government also built a reservoir to supply water for the villages of Quispillaccta during the dry season, but today, even during the wet season, the reservoir is empty. This is because the soil in the area is very porous, something the government didn't take into account, thus all the water quickly dissipates through the ground instead of storing.

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The government-built lake that took over the only pasture in the area
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In another area, they built a lake attached to an extensive canal running along the hillside of the Quispillaccta region and designed to bring water to the closest city, Ayacucho. Unfortunately, the lake was built on the only prime pasture land for the locals' animals. The huge, concrete canal caused tremendous erosion on the hillside which destroyed all the terraced gardens below. To add insult to injury, the canal didn't even work...it cracked from the cold and now just remains a monstrous man-made scar on the mountain side that doesn't provide water to anyone.

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The hills show evidence of erosion but ABA is helping to reconstruct the natural environment
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Another project initiated by the government was the planting of eucalyptus trees intended to help control erosion on the hillsides. Because eucalyptus is a non-native species, it spread like a weed and took over the countryside preventing native species from growing. Fortunately, ABA (the organization we've been working with) has been helping the locals reconstruct their terraced gardens and sharing advice with them on how to deal with the eucalyptus problem.

As you can see, development is a very delicate issue that needs serious consideration to be done right. Who, after all, is to judge what a better way to live is? If helping others is the real intention of development, don't you think development projects should ask the locals what they want or need? Working together, it's possible that both parties could benefit by learning from each other.

Kavitha

Abeja - School's Out! Field Trip to the Ruins
Abeja - Spirits in a Material World
Kevin - Treating Myself Like Royalty
Monica - Here Llama, Llama...
Monica - Shape of...a Puma Head! Form of...an Incan City!
Shawn - Soy vegetariano
Making a Difference - Eating Pesticide Potato Chips

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