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  • Andean Waterways: Resource Politics in Highland Peru by Mattias Borg Rasmussen
  • Kimberly Munro
Mattias Borg Rasmussen Andean Waterways: Resource Politics in Highland Peru Washington: Univ. of Washington Press, 2015. xxv + 2017 pp. Maps, illus., notes, references. $18.14 paper (ISBN 9780295994932); $90.00 hardcover (ISBN 0295994819); $23.99 electronic (ISBN 0295994932).

Mattias Borg Rasmussen's work in Andean Waterways explores how a changing climate is enmeshed in all aspects of everyday life. Rasmussen's ethnography takes place in the Department of Ancash, Peru, in the town of Recuay and its surrounding communities and hamlets. Situated in the Callejón de Huaylas, a highland valley flanked by the mountains of the Cordillera Negra to the west, and stunning views of the Cordillera Blanca to the east, Andean Waterways is an ethnography structured around the question of how a changing climate is affecting the Santa River and its tributaries.

Rasmussen, based at the University of Copenhagen, utilizes water to frame the complex relationship between Andean peasant communities and municipal and state governments. Water dynamics, specifically, are not part of the same infrastructure at the local level that they are at the state level, having been formed from centuries of water control at the local level in agro-pastoral Andean communities. Receding glaciers and the transformation of the Santa River's "beautiful flow" to a now unpredictable "devil river" (p. 32), further complicates matters. Andean Waterways highlights the conversations, local politics, and actions taken at the human scale within communities on the forefront of this global problem.

The theme of "flow" is examined in both a physical and metaphorical sense in Andean Waterways. Rasmussen focuses on five separate [End Page 246] tributaries and canals, following the courses these channels take through different communities and farmlands. Specifically, Rasmussen discusses the flow and interconnectedness of water, and "the configuration of actors, histories, territories, and environmental conditions that enable or inhibit the water" (p. 21). Because basic infrastructure provided by the national government is often lacking in these rural communities, towns like Recuay are "dominated by local power figures … acting in opposition to the Lima-centered national administration. Therefore, the interests of local governments do not always coincide with national interests" (p. 164). These networks of power relations are presented after an insightful discussion on the meaning of place, space, and structuring landscapes.

In the Andes, "Water is Life" (a phrase repeated throughout the ethnography), and Lake Conococha, the source of the Santa River, is considered "The heart of Ancash" (p. 157). Andean Waterways presents interviews with community members and detailed accounts of community meetings, government documents, and local protests, all structured around the control of water. Whether it is navigating the politics of constructing new canals through communal plots of land and privately owned chacras, or the protesting of a mine being constructed near Lake Conococha, Rasmussen's work delves into a world of water access, control, and distribution, where "killing the lake is like killing the people" (p. 157).

Rasmussen's book complements the work of geographers and historians on mining (Bebbington and Bury 2009), the catastrophic effects of glacial melt (Carey 2010), and social repercussions of climate change (Bury et al. 2013) in the Ancash region, with implications for the central Andes more broadly. Using the classic anthropological approach of ethnographic inquiry of the small Andean community, Rasmussen echoes and amplifies the valuable research of Mark Carey (a collaborator of Rasmussen's; see Carey, et al. 2017). The unique contribution of Andean Waterways lies in its first-hand account of the impact global climate change on the language and livelihood of peasant communities. The local people are at center stage, and Rasmussen eschews scientific jargon in favor of personal accounts of the everyday machinations required to cope with the changing landscape.

Rasmussen's ethnography also contributes to conversations on the theme of abandonment, in a multi-scalar way. First, these rural peasant communities have expressed a feeling of abandonment by the state and NGO actors. These rural communities feel this state abandonment not just in terms of water systems, but also in a lack of maintenance and investment in roadways, health services, schools, and other vital community infrastructure. Abandonment is...


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