Dr Jennifer Hazelton, a Research Coordinator for the Institute for Sustainability at Newcastle University, travelled to Lobitos, a small town in Northern Peru, in March 2014 for five weeks to help develop the town’s infrastructure. In the third of a four-post series, Jennifer tells us about her trip.
After my last post, we began to get stuck into the research, interviewing as many people as we could and investigating the surroundings more closely. Lobitos is actually quite a sprawling town, with around 1,500 inhabitants. It is split into distinct areas: Nuevo Lobitos, where the Municipal Government, school and a number of newer restaurants and hostels are located; Primavera, the town centre hosting the Plaza des Armas, security post, health centre and where most of the Lobiteños themselves live; Bellavista, a residential area up on the dunes overlooking the beach, made up of British Colonial built houses in varying states of disrepair and inhabited by a mix of Lobiteños and newcomers; la Playa, beachfront strip with a lot more hostels and restaurants; and the Military zone, a real mix of wooden colonial dwellings and brick built houses in all states from almost entirely destroyed to fully refurbished houses for newcomers, restaurants and hostels, with everything in between!
Our impression so far is that this is a friendly and relaxed place, where the people very much appreciate the safety and tranquillity of their town. This is particularly stark in comparison to Provincial Town Talara, a 20 minute drive away, where crime is a big problem and the inhabitants live in a busier, more polluted, smelly environment. Another contrasting comparison is made to Mancora, a tourist resort town further up the coast with a densely populated shoreline right up to the sea, land prices pushing locals out of the market, infamous nightlife and drug problems.
Lobitos, whilst currently resisting the problems of Talara and Mancora, is not without its own difficulties. There are at least 20 oil platforms within sight of the beach, and the sand is scarred with a crusty black layer in places. A significant oil spill last year was virtually unreported and little was done to remediate the impacts. The water supply is variable – it is officially available for 2 hours per day, 3-4 days per week, but is not always reliable. Those who can afford it fill tanks to supply their needs, others are reliant on the intermittent service and depend on the Municipality to provide water tankers if the taps run dry. Electricity is available via the grid, but is expensive and prices are increasing rapidly. Many, certainly not all, inhabitants have a connection and the penalty for getting behind on payments is disconnection, a fine and high price for reconnection. The Health Centre is very basic, and only really able to provide First Aid and simple procedures. It is only open until around 2pm Monday to Friday, and there is no service outside of this time. The Municipal Government have recently provided an ambulance, essentially a transport service to the hospital in Talara, with no medical equipment or paramedics. Land disputes, particularly along the beach, are a real concern for many residents. If someone fences off an area and manages to defend the position for 10 years (sometimes by violent means) they can claim official ownership. There is a Central Government organisation, Biene Nacionales, working on planning restrictions and trying to stop beachfront development that is too close to the shoreline, but the local perception is that this is largely ineffective and that Lobiteños are being negatively impacted by relatively uncontrolled invasion of the territory in this way. We have also heard concerns about the quality and affordability of education, the management of household waste and sewerage, the decline of fish stocks and the lack of skilled employment opportunities available.
All in all, an interesting start to the trip, and we are looking forward to getting more information from the inhabitants, business owners, government officers and anyone else we can talk to. Let the hard work begin!