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Catalina Lobo-Guerrero is a freelance journalist and anthropologist currently living in Barcelona, Spain. For the past decade she has been working as an investigative journalist and correspondent in Bogotá, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela where has written about politics, corruption, the armed conflict and violence. Her work has been published by The New York Times, The Guardian, El País and other smaller and independent media outlets in Latin America.
The Water Lords is a series of special reports. Reporters in Peru used drones to prove how a group of large agro-exporters were privatising water from the subsoil. Besides mapping out the wells, the reports by Ojo-publico.com showed how the Peruvian government issued permits and special concessions that allowed hundreds of these types of illegal wells to proliferate, in the name of progress or what they have dubbed the "agro-export miracle" in the Ica region.
In Villacurí, one of the main asparagus producing centres, at least 300 wells are operating without a license and regional water supervisors are unable to control the extent to which these companies are using the resource, putting entire communities living there at risk. Some supervisors have actually been intimidated by the companies when they have tried to do their jobs.
Although there has been a ban for new wells in this area of the country - which has been in a state of water emergency since 2005 - it hasn’t been enforced. On the contrary, the Ministry of Agriculture issued several resolutions that allowed the over-exploitation of the groundwater reserves between 2008 and 2017. Two of the ministers that served terms during these years are owners of agro-export companies themselves.
Cotton, which was traditionally grown in the region, has been replaced mostly by asparagus, which relies heavily on water. According to the report, the amount of asparagus exported to the United States every year needs the equivalent of 42,000 olympic pools.
As a consequence of this over-exploitation, nearby farmers who grow grapes and pallar legumes have lost their crops. Without work and in large debt, some have left the area, after selling their lands to the big companies. The buyers have been especially interested in acquiring those with operating wells and making them a part of their huge 500 hectar investments.