Finding New Hope for Water Supplies in Historic Infrastructure
As World Water Day is observed across the globe, we are reminded that water shortages, exacerbated by climate-driven changes in water supply, represent a growing threat to communities around the world. In light of this crisis, it is more important than ever to rehabilitate historic water infrastructure and traditional management systems to supplement local supply and build water resilience within communities.
We invite you to learn more about these incredible examples of human achievement and explore how WMF's work to spotlight and preserve them can help address the global water crisis.
Reliable water supplies are at risk. Water shortages represent a significant challenge around the world, but particularly in developing countries where large numbers of people may not have regular access to clean water. More and more, the importance of traditional water provision and management systems is coming to light as climate change and growing populations undermine the reliability of modern water supplies.
In the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, nearly 20% of residents do not have access to water within their homes and must seek their daily supply elsewhere. While more than 70% of the valley’s population relies on piped underground water, in recent years Kathmandu water purveyors have provided water only intermittently, sometimes just a few days a month, with increasing severity of monsoons further interrupting supply. Given these challenges, traditional public water fountains, known as dhunge dhara or hiti, are essential to the local population. Dating from as far back as the sixth century CE, the system of hitis has been a permanent fixture throughout the Kathmandu valley. The ornate fountains are typically carved in the form of Hindu and Buddhist mythical creatures known as hitimanga (makara in Sanskrit) and provided nearly 3 million liters of water per day as recently as 2008. Today, only a portion of extant hitis still provide water, and continuing development threatens their existence. The 2022 Watch includes the Hitis of the Kathmandu Valley in an effort to raise awareness of this essential network of traditional water fountains and call for their enhanced protection, as well as support improved management of the underground aquifers and water table that feeds them.
Across the world in Peru, another example of a traditional water infrastructure extends across an ancient cultural landscape nestled within the Andes. Here, pre-Inca civilizations (Yauyos) developed an intricate series of dams, reservoirs, and channels to divert, filter, and retain spring water and glacier melt for the irrigation of high-altitude pastures and lower- altitude fields, as well as for human consumption. The infrastructure, some of which dates to the ninth century CE, creates fertile wetlands in the high, dry puna ecosystem that were used to harvest water
and sediments for grass to feed livestock. The water retention allows for percolation and replenishment of natural springs at lower altitudes used to irrigate agricultural terraces and supply water for daily use. When maintained, the system provides effective water management across a large, mountainous landscape that impacts communities across the Cañete River basin. Unfortunately, much of the infrastructure has been largely abandoned and key maintenance practices forgotten by the local Indigenous heirs of this incredible heritage. The inclusion of the Yanacancha-Huaquis Cultural Landscape on the 2022 Watch aims to draw attention to this historic water management network while encouraging the expansion of recent rehabilitation efforts and the development of a sustainable tourism plan that provides local community benefit.
In Nepal and Peru, like many other places around the world, new challenges related to water use are bringing to light the incredible traditional water management systems that served communities continually for over one thousand years. As modern practices are proving insufficient in the face of climate change and increased water demand, the promise of rehabilitating ancient water infrastructure and reviving traditional management strategies appears too good to be true. However, time and time again, traditional knowledge and age-old infrastructure are being rediscovered and put to use to address the most salient challenges of our world. World Monuments Fund is proud to showcase these two examples of impressive infrastructure on the 2022 Watch and support their protection and revitalization in the face of climate-driven changes in water supply and ever-increasing demand.