Sustainable development in northern Peru – a personal experience (part 4)

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 final post of a four-post series, Jennifer tells us about her trip.

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What a trip – we have been back a week, and it is already hard to remember that we were away, that is until I look at the pages of notes I have to get through to properly begin my analysis! I wonder if the readers are interested to know a bit more about our specific projects, so I will try to explain a little here before completing the story of how it all went.

Jen and Mark on the fish quay in Lobitos

Jen and Mark on the fish quay in Lobitos

My husband Mark is a renewable energy policy advisor, and is right at the end of studying for a part time Master’s degree in Renewable Energy Enterprise and Management at Newcastle University. For his dissertation, he is writing a feasibility study for solar energy use in Lobitos. This involves analysis of the different potential applications, funding opportunities and barriers (both technical and social), and finally a full business case for one or more of the applications that he thinks are the most promising. This will be directly beneficial for EcoSwell and the inhabitants of Lobitos, because he will be basing his analysis and recommendations on the reality on the ground and with existing funding options and mechanisms. The intention for the team in Lobitos is for them to actually take this case forward and implement it.

My research interest is primarily the social dimension of sustainable development, although taking account of the physical, environmental aspects. What I intend for Lobitos is to get a good understanding of the different stakeholder groups and their ‘dynamics’, essentially: the relationships between them; their role in the town and its development; and the risks and/or benefits to them of the changes that are likely to take place. This information will then be analysed and disseminated in straightforward terms to those with the power to bring about change, or planning to implement particular projects.  The intention is that this will aid those groups designing the process, provide a solid platform for multi-stakeholder consultation and ultimately result in a socially beneficial, sustainable outcome. Dissemination will be to EcoSwell, supporting them in designing the projects they intend to implement, as well as the Municipal and Regional Governments.

During our fortnight in Lobitos, we conducted interviews with over 25 different individuals and groups. We spoke to the decision makers, the business owners, the visitors, the inhabitants and external experts. We were extremely fortunate to find that, on the whole, people were very happy to talk to us and share information, as well as their views and aspirations. Our main EcoSwell contact in Lobitos, Alejandro Pizarro, had laid a significant amount of groundwork in setting up meetings with Government officers and local business owners, but a lot of the interviews were gained simply by walking around and knocking on doors. It was a strategy that worked from day 1, so we were happy to run with it! We wouldn’t have got far without Alejandro, and his EcoSwell colleagues Andres Bustamente and Luis Miguel Meza, with their translation and local knowledge.

We learned a lot more detail about the problems faced in Lobitos, but also the opportunities. Of course, not everyone agrees with each other! We spoke at length to certain individuals about the complex political situation and some of the associated difficulties and frustrations, whilst others were proud of the efforts of the Municipality and felt they were proactive in the town’s development. Reports of declining fish stocks were unanimous, with various reasons proposed – noise from the oil platforms, over fishing by bigger vessels from elsewhere trawling in the bay (legally and illegally), pollution from sewage or petroleum extraction. The Regional Government in Piura were less concerned with the water quality in Talara Province (in which Lobitos sits) than neighbouring Paita – where the production of fish flour and the discharge of untreated sewage has apparently resulted in faecal matter readings in the ocean of 55 times greater than the permitted level. Actual readings for Talara were not available.

Education was often mentioned; it appears that the state funded schooling available in the town suffers from poor provisions and a lack of coordination. There are reception, primary and secondary schools on the same site but managed and run separately. The lack of communication is such that the electricity supply was cut off last year because of an internal disagreement over splitting the bill. There is a small but non-compulsory charge for attending school that many families do not pay. Very few of the children who follow this local school system, where there are no national exams, end up with professional jobs and almost none go on to higher education or to work outside Lobitos. Some parents told us that they send their children to Talara for better schooling, but others insisted that the only decent education available in the region is in Piura, and that sending children there, or even Talara, was far too expensive for the majority of Lobiteños. Many of the locals are employed by the Municipality, some in clerical positions but most as drivers, security officers or street sweepers. None of the officials that we met were from Lobitos, nor were most of the professionals or business owners with the exception of one local woman, educated in Lima, who is Director of the Lobitos office of international charity Waves for Development.

So, now we have to wade through the interview transcripts and get on with our analysis. I hope that these posts have given some insight into the nature of fieldwork in countries like Peru. One thing I have learned from 8 years doing this sort of research, though, is that everywhere is different and seeing really is believing – you need to experience it for yourself in order to get close to understanding what is actually going on and how people are affected. Enjoy!

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