January 16, 2009 / 12:08 AM / 10 years ago

Peruvian farmers block roads to protest water laws

LIMA, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Farmers blocked roads across Peru on Thursday, demanding Congress repeal laws they say could put water under the control of private interests.

Protesters snarled traffic on highways in South America’s third-largest country, piling roads with tree trunks, boulders and truck tires. They also halted trains to Machu Picchu, Peru’s top tourist spot.

The laws, passed by decree last year, created two new public agencies to oversee water management and distribution. Small farmers fear the changes will drive up costs, reduce their access to water while increasing it to corporate growers and, eventually, lead to the privatization of the public agencies.

"The farmers of this country are tired of being forgotten by the state," said Enrique Malaga, head of a group representing small farmers on irrigation issues.

Water is scarce in much of Peru, which depends on glacial runoff for much of its energy. The dry western slopes of the Andes are some of the world’s most arid areas.

At the rate world temperatures are rising, Peru has just 25 years before the glaciers run dry, putting water security at risk, scientists say.

Large, industrial-style farms, located along the Pacific coast, produce the majority of Peru’s agricultural exports, like mango, asparagus, paprika and avocado. Farmers at higher elevations tend to be subsistence planters.

The government said the new laws are meant to protect the long-term supply of water in Peru, not privatize it.

"This is totally and absolutely untrue," said Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon. (Reporting by Maria Luisa; Writing by Dana Ford; Editing by Terry Wade)

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