The Mountain Institute wins St Andrews Prize


The Mountain Institute, a Mountain Partnership member, is the 2018 winner of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment. Their winning project integrates 2 000 years of indigenous knowledge of water management in the Andes with contemporary science and technology to create hybrid solutions that improve water security, support livelihoods, strengthen communities and increase ecosystem-wide resilience in mountain communities.

Healthy mountain ecosystems help buffer the impacts of climate change for local communities, wildlife and downstream populations worldwide. Mountain people rely on their surrounding environment for water, food, pasture and the raw materials that are the foundation of their livelihoods. Further downstream, towns and cities depend on mountain water for drinking, agriculture and industry.

Efforts to manage, conserve or restore natural environments can help people adapt to climate change by taking advantage of a healthy ecosystem’s natural resilience.

In 2013, The Mountain Institute, Peru, began working with communities in the Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve affected by increasing water scarcity. They discovered the existence of a vast, complex and partially abandoned hydraulic system to manage water in the alpine high-plateau, or puna. Initiated as early as 100 BC, these systems were used extensively until about 1532. Through a complex system of dams and open earth canals, the systems increased soil and ground water storage, creating niche plant communities for camelid herds, and improved water supplies to irrigation systems.

Based on the experience and evidence gained, The Mountain Institute proposes to reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities to increasing water scarcity by restoring ancestral hydraulic systems and principles. Their objective is to increase the availability of tools, case studies, methods and information and building and strengthening the capacities of networks of scientists and indigenous organizations to co-design and implement the restoration of this ancestral water system.

At a ceremony at the University of St Andrews on 26 April 2018, Jorge Recharte Bullard, Director of the Andean Programme, The Mountain Institute, Peru, was presented with the winning prize of $100 000. He said, “The Mountain Institute is honoured to be the 2018 winner of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment. The award is recognition to the urgency to find solutions that, rooted in local cultures, secure mountain peoples’ water and livelihoods. Our project will expand now to cooperate with dozens of communities in the Andes to restore ancient water technologies and mountain ecosystems. This is recognition to the work of a network of partners who are part of this effort, like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of which The Mountain Institute, Peru is a proud member. With the financial support that comes with the Prize, TMI will continue working with communities in the Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve, archaeologists and wildlife experts to scale-up the restoration of ancestral water technologies all over Peru and in other countries of the Andes in the future.”

The St Andrews Prize for the Environment is a joint environmental initiative by the University of St Andrews in Scotland and independent exploration and production company ConocoPhillips. Recognizing significant contributions to environmental conservation, since its launch in 1998 the Prize has attracted more than 5 400 entries from around the world and donated approximately $2 million to environmental initiatives on a wide range of diverse topics, including biodiversity, sustainable development, urban re-generation, recycling, health, water and waste issues, renewable energy and community development.

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Photo: The Mountain Institute

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