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A Thousand Years of Resilience in Lima

Photo by cspruit via Flickr Creative Commons
Photo credit: funkz

Participants in the Informal City Dialogues innovation workshop in Lima explored ways to make their city more resilient and inclusive. One early challenge was clearly explaining the concept of resilience — a word with no translation in Spanish. But the concept became easier to grasp when the audience learned with the millennial history of the City.

The province is site to 10,000 years or more of human occupation and transformation, thanks mainly to three rivers that irrigate a valley connecting between high-altitude areas and a rich ocean. 5,000 years ago, the habitants took advantage of these conditions to access a variety of resources, providing the foundation for permanent settlement.

The El Niño phenomenon, characterized by unusually warm sea surface temperatures, caused periodic disruption to this system: some say that it may have even led to the collapse of ancient civilizations such as the Lima, who lived in the region between 200 and 700 A.D.

The key ingredient for resilience in the challenging region is the use of technology, some of which remains in use during the 21st century.

There are still examples all over the city of complex channels and infrastructure for irrigation, complemented by the use of terraces in the surrounding hillocks. Locals also used special zigzagged canals to take advantage of kinetic energy in order to move water up to the high hills without using pumps or motors.

Few people — even Limeans — are aware of this story of resilience. Today, as the a city of almost nine million grapples with the strain on its ecosystem and water resources, further knowledge of this history may inspire new capacity to design similar resilience strategies for the next hundred years.

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