The reconfiguration of the hydrosocial territory of the peninsula of Santa Elena, Ecuador A threat to ancestral land
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Large-scale infrastructural projects are source of controversies and opposition all over the world, due to the recognised unequal distribution of the costs and benefits deriving from them. Technological interventions aimed at the domination and appropriation of nature are products of (asymmetric) relations of power, involving actors with different worldviews and interests. The ecological changes caused by the construction of such projects are often reflection of the social relations underpinning them. Water is also increasingly source of struggles and competition, being a precious resource that embodies power relations and dominant ‘regimes of truth’ while simultaneously constituting and reshaping them. Adopting a political ecologist perspective, this study examines the reconfiguration of the hydrosocial territory of the peninsula of Santa Elena, in Ecuador, resulting from the creation of the PHASE irrigation scheme. Inhabited by the descendants of one of America’s most ancient civilisations, who now live organised in comunas, this region has suffered from a severe water deficit for more than half a century. In order to increase and exploit its untapped agricultural potential, in the 1980s the Ecuadorian government opted for the construction of a water transfer system and an extensive irrigation scheme. This research retraces the processes which have led to the development of the PHASE scheme as we see it today, while attempting to describe and explain its impacts, particularly in terms of land tenure change and concentration. The communal system is threatened by the fragmentation of its territory caused by a ‘land rush’ that has left local inhabitants with no access to irrigation. The findings discussed are particularly relevant in view of the technocratic approach of the current Ecuadorian government and of the great number of large-scale hydraulic projects planned for the future.