Peru Using Incan Engineering to Solve Water Crisis

I found this little snippet in today’s Independent fascinating. I’m a fan, sort-of, of Frank Herbert’s classic SF epic, Dune. This is set on Arrakis, a desert planet, whose sandworms are the only known source of the drug Spice, whose mind-expanding effects allow the mutated human navigators to guide their spacecraft across the galaxy without the use of computers. The planet’s original settlers, the Fremen, use stillsuits, technological body suits that harvest water from their sweat and body fluids to produce drinkable water, enabling them to survive for weeks even in the deep desert. And the Fremen have also established a network of cisterns to gather water as part of a project to turn their arid world green.

That type of technology and engineering, used to reclaim and channel water in desert areas, fascinates me. There are ingenious machines now that collect water from the humidity in the atmosphere, to produce drinking water. Nearly 2,000 years ago, a Greek engineer created a huge moisture-gatherer in one of the ancient Greek colonies on the Black Sea to provide the town with water despite the absence of rain or rivers. Now, according to the Independent, Peruvian engineers are renovating the ancient system of canals the Incas used to irrigate their land. The article by Samuel Webb, ‘Ancient Incan technology being used to harvest water to combat Peru’s crisis’, begins

Techniques used by servants of the Inca empire to build canals 500 years ago are being resurrected in Peru to funnel much-needed water to remote mountain communities and the city of Lima below.

Gregorio Rios, 74, oversaw the renovation of the vast network of canals above San Pedro de Casta, a town 3,000 metres above sea level in the South American country’s Huarochiri district.

The canals were built centuries ago by the Yapani ethnic group, using clay and rocks ingeniously compressed over a long period of time.

The local municipality previously used concrete to build new modern canals, but it stifled plant growth, affecting the local ecosystem, and crumbled after just 10 years.

The Yapani canals, by contrast, are more than 500 years old. New canals built with the ancient techniques could last for more than 100 years if built correctly. They are also permeable, so the water is filtered and plant roots help anchor the structure in place.

Mr Rios, whose work is supported by Warwickshire-based charity Practical Action, said: “Our ancestors built the canals with rock and clay. That knowledge is being lost and it’s in our interest to recover it.

“We have got to take control of the management of water for the crops. This is all being done thanks to the knowledge of our ancestors.”


In Chile, farmers use networks of string placed across their fields to collect moisture from the sea mists for their crops despite the lack of rainfall in that part of the country.

And over in Iran and Afghanistan, there’s an ancient system of subterranean canals, the qanats, irrigating those countries deserts and arid regions.

I find it absolutely fascinating that such ancient methods and modern technology are together being used to combat the desert and the contemporary water shortage caused by climate change.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Peru Using Incan Engineering to Solve Water Crisis”

  1. Mark Pattie Says:

    Interesting. This certainly would contradict the narrative spewed by our favourite right-wing historian turned YouTube grifter, who would certainly think such architecture must have been devised by the Spanish, rather than by the native- and I apologise for using this term- Indians. In the same vein, he clearly thinks the Great Mosque in Mali was re-built by the French. It may have been *re-built* by the French (probably using Bambara or Fulani slave labour, as European colonists were wont to do at the time) but it was certainly originally built by sub-Saharan Africans.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I haven’t seen him post anything about the ancient Amerindian civilisations, so I don’t know what he thinks about them. It may well be that he does accept that they were built by the indigenous peoples. He doesn’t dispute that the great fort of Zimbabwe was built by Africans, which it had been by the early archaeologists in Africa. They claimed, as you probably know, that it was built by Arabs or the Chinese. I’ve got a feeling that some might have claimed that it was built by a lost White civilisation, and I’m pretty sure the Ufolks have claimed that it was built by ancient aliens. But Webb believes it was, indeed, built by Africans. He just doesn’t think it was a civilisation, because the people didn’t have a written culture.

      As for the rebuilding of the great mosque in west Africa, I completely agree with you. Even if it was rebuilt by the French, it was originally built by Africans and I’ve no doubt you’re right about them using forced labour to do so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: