Archive for June, 2015

In week 2 of my class Developing a Personal Ethic for Sustainability, our assignment is to identify a local sustainability issue.  I’m to think about my own context and select an issue I would like to explore further.  Two issues immediately came to mind:  water and plastic.

I thought I would focus on water first.  I’ve been surfing the web researching the issue and most of the statistics I quote here are from the Wikipedia article “Water Supply and Sanitation in Peru.”

Water, as I’ve said before, is a huge issue here.  For us, it is expensive to get potable water to the house and the quality isn’t what we consider drinkable.  Fortunately, we are able to buy the water and can filter or buy drinking water as well.  We do try to conserve, have a grey water system recycling household water to the garden, and reuse water vacuumed from the pool during cleaning.  That’s on a personal level.

Regions of Peru

The water issue in Peru, and specifically in the North Coast where we live, is very complex.  On average, water is abundant but it is unequally distributed across the country and from season to season.  It is most abundant in the forested and mountainous regions which are the most sparsely populated.  These regions, part of the Atlantic Watershed, provide water for the rest of the country.  Two thirds of the population of Peru live in major cities along the coast.  Lima with 8.6 million (2010) is the second largest city located on a desert. (Cairo being first with 12 million.)

Quelccaya Ice CapTwo thirds of all tropical glaciers are located in Peru.  These are rapidly melting due to climate change resulting in irregular river flow, floods and droughts.  Quelccaya Glacier is the largest ice cap in the Peruvian Andes.  It has shrunk 30% in the last 30 years.

I found these statistics to be of interest:

  • It has been estimated that 85% of the population in Peru have access to water.
  • 83% of urban dwellers have water piped while only 46% of rural dwellers do.
  • 81% of urban dwellers have improved sanitation while 37% of the rural population do.
  • 28% of the rural population, including our local village of El Nuro, have no sanitation services and use the open fields surrounding them.
  • In 2008, water flowed (assuming it was piped) for an average of 18 hours per day in the mountains, 10 hours a day in Lima, and 8 hours a day along the remaining coast.  In the village of El Nuro, there is no piped water.  It is all delivered by truck.  In Los Organos, it is not always flowing through the pipes.  It is common for some of our friends to go for several days without piped water.

These are the challenges outlined for Peru:

Source:  Wikipedia, Water Supply and Sanitation in Peru; 2012 National Water Resources Policy and Strategy (PENRH)

  • insufficient service coverage;  Peru will have to meet an increase in water demand caused by population growth and economic development.  The population in Peru is estimated to be 36 million (75% in urban areas) in 2025.  GDP grew by 6.9% in 2011 and is expected to grow at a similar rate.
  • poor service quality which puts public health at risk
  • deficient sustainability of built systems.  Many of the systems in place have not been maintained and are not efficient.
  • tariffs do not cover investment and operational costs or maintenance of services
  • institutional and financial weakness
  • inequitable water resources throughout the country; most is available in the forested and mountainous regions, not where most of the population lives.  The phenomena of El Nino and La Nina generally bring more rainfall than normal.  These phenomena also cause ever more extreme climate events such as severe flooding and droughts.
  • deteriorating water quality.  Industrial activity and waste produced by the increasing population have contributed to declining quality of groundwater and surface water.

Para la secundo semana de mi clase “El desarrollo de una Ética Personal para Sostenibilidad,¨ nuestra tarea es identificar una cuestión local de sostenibilidad.  Tengo que pensar de mi contexto a elegir una cuestión que quiero investigar.  Pensaba de dos cuestiones inmediatamente:  agua y plástico.

Voy a centrarme en agua primero.  Leía informes por el internet.  Hay dos que cito.  Wikipedia, ¨Water Supply and Sanitation in Peru¨  (Suministro de Agua y Saneamiento en Peru) y PENRH, 2012.

Agua es una cuestión muy grave acá.  A nosotros, tenemos que comprar camiones de agua potable que son carros.  La calidad de la agua no es puro y necesitamos comprar agua de mesa también.  Afortunadamente, podemos hacerlo.  Tratamos a conservar y tenemos una sistema para reciclar agua de la cocina y duchas para el jardín.  Eso es un nivel personal.

Regions of Peru

La cuestión de agua en Peru, en el norte específicamente, es muy complicado.  Como media, agua es abundante pero no es disponible igualmente en todos partes del Perú.  También no es igual en todos los estaciones.  Agua es mas abundante en los bosques, la selva y las montañas.  Estas zonas suministrar agua al resto de Perú.  Dos terceros del población vive en ciudades major en la costa.  Lima con 8.6 millones (2010) es la segunda ciudad más grande ubicada en un desierto. (Cairo es primero con 12 millones.)

Quelccaya Ice CapDos terceros del los glaciares tropical están ubicados en Perú.  Estos se están derritiendo por motivo de Cambio Climático que resultan en varios niveles de ríos, inundaciones, y sequías.  Quelccaya Glaciar es la glaciar más grande en Los Andes de Perú.  Se encogía 30% en los últimos 30 años.

Estos estadísticos son de interés:

  • Aproximadamente 85% de la población de Perú tiene acceso de agua.
  • 83% de la población urbana tiene agua entregada en casa, y 46% de la población rural lo tiene.
  • 81% de la población urbana tiene sistema saneamiento y 37% de la población rural la tiene.
  • 28% de la población rural, incluido nuestro pueble del Ñuro, no tiene servicios saneamiento.
  • En 2008, la gente en las montañas tenia agua para 18 horas diaria.  La gente en Lima tenia agua para 10 horas diarias, y la gente en otro partes de la costa tenia 8 horas diaria.  En El Ñuro, no hay servicio de agua.  En Los Organos, a veces había días sin agua.

Estos son los retos para Perú:

  • cobertura insuficiente.  Perú va a tener una exigencia de agua para una población que crecer y para desarrollo industrial.  La población de Perú puede ser 36 millones en 2025 con 75% ubicado en las ciudades.  La economía creció 6.9% en 2011 y puede continuar así.
  • calidad mala del servicio que dañe la salud publica.
  • sistemas deficientes no son sostenible.
  • tarifas no suficiente para cobrar gastos de inversion o mantenimiento de servicios.
  • recursos de agua no son igual en las varias zonas de Peru.
  • calidad de agua se deteriora por motivo de actividad industrial y una población que aumentar.


Yesterday I began an on-line course called Learning for Sustainability; Developing a Personal Ethic from the University of Edinburg.  This is the second MOOC (Mass On-line Offering Course) I’ve taking on Sustainability through Coursera.

I’ve always been interested in conserving resources and eating naturally, but have more recently realized I didn’t know, and didn’t think about, what went into getting that food or service to my home.  For example, red meat production needs a large carbon footprint.  It’s not just the meat we get from the animal, but all the feed that the animal consumed, the production of the feed, the fuel required by the farm equipment…. and on it goes.

Doug and I also use solar panels to power our home.  We live in a rural area where there is no power grid.  I’ve always felt really good about using solar, a renewable source.  But, again, never really thought about the processes that went into making the panels themselves or the converter and gauges that go along with it.

Our first assignment was to talk about what we had for breakfast.  We were not only to list what we had but to comment on where it had come from.  I am sharing my response here.  Two reasons.  First, I would love to get feedback from any readers on the subject and hear what choices you make to live more sustainably.  Second, I think most people in this class already practice living sustainably and I’m sure I will learn a lot from them.  I would like to open the discussion to a broader audience and hope to do so through my blog.  I believe education and discussion is key to moving our world toward more sustainable practices.  So, here is my response:

Greetings!  I’m Karen and live on the north coast of Peru.  The coast of Peru is a desert, so not much grows here.  The region has an average rainfall of 4 inches, which usually falls during March.  The ground contains a lot of clay and has a high salt content as we are right on the ocean.

One proponent of sustainability is buying locally.  I was thinking about what “local” meant and how far afield one needs to go to find food.  For my purposes, I will define local as the north of Peru with Trujillo being the southern limit.  Anything traveling by road here from Trujillo will travel at least 9 hours and we are 2 hours from the Ecuadorian border.  However, crops like coffee or tea which are grown in the hills and mountains east of here are shipped to Lima (about 18 hours) for processing.  Once processed, they are then shipped throughout Peru and exported to other countries.  I don’t think I can call the coffee I drink as being local even though it may be grown in the north close to my home.

I live in a rural area and don’t have supermarkets available close by.  All of our food comes out of the local market which resembles a farmer’s market you’d find in the states.  Once a month we travel to the city of Piura and will buy a few items from a large chain grocery there.  However, we find the produce is not as tasty or as inexpensive as the local market.

Fish is a staple here and is caught fresh every day.  Tuna, swordfish, Mero, shark and scores of smaller fish lower on the food chain are usually available.  All manner of seafood such as octopus, shrimp, calamari, crab, and clams are also fresh daily.

Chicken. pork and goat meat is available.  The pork and goat meat is locally raised and slaughtered locally.  Pork and goat are generally only available once a week.  Peruvian beef is terrible and what we find in our market is probably raised in Peru.  Beef is imported from Argentina and the US but generally only restaurants and large chain grocery stores have it available.  I suspect the chicken comes from large poultry farm operations south of Trujillo.  My guess is these farms resemble the large poultry operations in other countries where the chickens are grown in crowed conditions and fed antibiotics and growth hormones.  There are some local chickens raised by families in the village, but they are used by the family for subsistence.

Fruits and vegetables generally come from the hills and mountains southeast of us and travel 5 to 6 hours by car or truck twice a week.  Although they are fresh, it is impossible to know whether they are organic or not.  My guess is that most of the chakra farms are organic. I think some of the local venders believe organic to mean it was grown on a “chakra” which is a country family farm as opposed to a large corporate operation.  This does not preclude the chakra farmers from using pesticides or other chemicals.

Dry goods are also trucked in from the larger cities; things like pasta, rice, wheat, beans and lentils are Peruvian.  I buy olive oil, from the south of Peru, from this vendor as well.  The dry goods stall will also have limited supplies of brand name products like Quaker Oats, Jiffy peanut butter.

So, to the question about breakfast….I had oatmeal with apples, soy milk and coffee for breakfast.  The oatmeal is definitely not local as it is Quaker brand and is distributed out of Chile.  The package doesn’t tell me where the oats were grown and harvested.   The apples also come from Chile.  Both the soy milk and the coffee are Peruvian products.

I try to consume only fresh foods available in the market.  I stew my own tomatoes, make my own stock for cooking and rarely buy anything canned or processed.  I think the soy milk is probably the most processed thing I buy.  If I could find a source for soy beans, I might try to make my own.

I am fortunate to live where there is fresh fish, fruits and vegetables of all kinds available year round.
The use of plastic bags here is so prevalent and the lack of environmental awareness regarding the plastic has been hard to deal with.  I try to take my own bags to the market, but they still want to put things into the plastic before it goes into my bag.  Some of the vendors are catching on that I don’t want the plastic bag and will load my bag instead.

Our biggest issue, by far, is water.  It is also our biggest living expense.  We buy a truck of water every 10 days or so for S/.400 (about $130).  The last statistic I heard was that 30% of Peruvians lack access to clean water.  All of our water is trucked to us and stored in a cistern.  It is then pumped up to two elevated tanks that provide gravity fed water to the house.  Even though we buy “potable” water, it isn’t pure enough to drink.  I do not have the luxury of turning on the tap and having clean water.    Therefore, we also have to buy drinking water.  We buy large 21 liter bottles of drinking water which are refilled each week or so.

Even though I try to make good choices, I’m thinking that I am somewhat limited in my choices for living sustainably.  I’d like to have a smaller sustainability footprint, but some things that we need just aren’t available to me.  Food must travel to get here and water only comes by truck.


imageAfter deciding to make humitas today we went to the local market to buy choclo. Choclo is a Peruvian version of corn on the cob, but the kernels are general much larger than the sweet corn we get in the states. Humitas are very similar to tamales.  Actually, no one has been able to give me a definitive answer as to how the two differ.   Traditionally the humitas have cilantro in the mash which makes them green whereas the tamales can have meat, olives, and eggs in the mash.  However, you can find recipes for humitas that don’t include cilantro and tamales recipes that do.
Today we bought choclo from an elderly gentleman who comes in to our local market once a week from the jungle.  (He is often the only one who has grapefruit; probably my favorite fruit.)  Today he was also selling  ears of choclo for 70 centimos (about 20 cents each). I told him what I was making and he began selecting the younger and smaller ears telling me they were better for humitas. I asked for 12 ears, but by the time he finished filling our bag we had 16. This may be why. He opened a few of the ears he rejected to show me how few of the kernels that had matured. The photo here shows one he did not reject.  He told me the unseasonal rain had ruined much of the crop, and this was the result of too much rain during the growing of the choclo.

The process for making humitas is a bit labor intensive, but the results are delicious.


1 T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped finely

8 ears of corn

salt and pepper

1/2 cup milk (I use soy), optional

1/2 t dried red pepper flakes

1 t cumin

1-3 T aji amarillo paste (yellow pepper paste)

1/2 lb. of queso fresco

2-3 egg white, whipped until it forms peaks

1.  Saute onions until soft in olive oil.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

2.  Cut around the base of corn cobs and gently remove the husks whole.  Grate the kernels off cobs.

3.  Mix in onions, aji paste, queso fresco and spices.  Add milk if the mixture is too thick.  The mash should be a bit runny.  Chill mixture until firm.  I suggest chilling it overnight.  I get impatient and use it while it is still a bit runny.  This makes for more mess, but the results are still quite delicious.

4.  When you are ready to fill the corn husks, line the bottom of a large pan with the cobs left after grating the kernels.  Add water to just cover the cobs.  Put the empty husks in and bring to a boil.  Steaming the husks makes them more flexible and easier to work with.

5.  Lay two of the widest husks side by side; narrow ends at the top and bottom and overlapping a few inches at the center.  Spoon 1/4 cup of the corn mash into the center.  Fold in the sides to cover the filling.  Then fold in the top and bottom to make an enclosed rectangular package.  Tie crosswise with string.  (To be totally “correct” you can make strips of the corn husks, tie them together to make a strip long enough to go around).

6.  Place a layer of corn husks over the cobs in your pot.  Check that the water level is still just above the cobs.  Add humitas and then cover these with more husks.  Steam humitas for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  Keep an eye on the water level so the pot doesn’t boil dry.

The humitas keep well in the refrigerator for several days.  As labor intensive as they are to make, I usually make a large batch.