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Making the megaproject: Water infrastructure and hydrocracy at the public-private interface in Peru

Susann Baez Ullberg
Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden; susann.baez.ullberg@antro.uu.se

ABSTRACT: To meet an increasing industrial and urban demand for water in a context of water scarcity in Peru, the state has invested heavily in hydraulic megaprojects to ensure water supply to citizens and corporations. The Majes Siguas Special Project (PEMS) in the Arequipa Region is an example of such a water infrastructure project. While the first stage of PEMS, built in the 1980s, was financed and run by the Peruvian government, the second stage that is currently underway is being co-financed and built by a private transnational consortium that will run the infrastructure for 20 years. This can be understood as a process of temporary commodification of the water infrastructure and places the hydraulic megaproject at the heart of tensions between seeing water infrastructure as public utility and seeing it as private provision. This article asks how this tension between public and private is played out in practice within the hydraulic bureaucracy and examines ethnographically how the Majes Siguas Special Project is made over time by way of the everyday practices of experts. The study finds that these experts anticipate the potential political effects of temporary commodification of water infrastructures to be both a risk and a distinct possibility. The article argues that building, maintaining and managing hydraulic megaprojects are far from straightforward processes, but should instead be understood as open-ended experimental reconfigurations that the hydrocracy deals with through contingent practices of knowledge.

KEYWORDS: Megaprojects, water infrastructures, public-private partnerships, build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, temporary commodification, hydrocracy, expertise, Majes Siguas Special Project, Peru