Nature-Based Solutions as integral and multiscale responses to social and environmental challenges in Lima, Peru

NBS Co-creation process for the Green Belt Independencia, (right) first stage forestation. Photo captures: Taícia Marques.
Area characterisation: 

The metropolis of Lima, the capital of Perú, is home to approximately 10 million residents, representing almost 30% of the country’s population and producing about the same percentage of the national GDP.

The city, located on a coastal desert with extremely limited water resources, grew – demographically and spatially – squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the lower Andean hills, expanding horizontally to accommodate the high influx of people, most of whom built their self-constructed houses on public land. Healthy and safe living conditions in Lima are dependent on the city water security which itself depends on healthy and functional ecosystems in the upper, water-producing Andean watersheds as well as the urban diverse ecosystem matrix. Lima has an exceptionally low rainfall, close to 16 mm per year, and an estimated 56 m3/s provision of water that comes from its three temporary rivers and its Andean lagoons and glacial reserves. These are threatened by climate change. Glacier surface area has already diminished by 51% since 1948, whilst different climate change scenarios predict more intermittent rainfall and, eventually, drought. The city is in a recurrent hydrological stress and struggles to ensure water security for its 10 million inhabitants, as well as from irrigation of the surrounded rural landscape, energy generation (70% of the electrical energy used in Lima comes from hydropower), commercial and industrial consumption, and other urban uses such as green areas irrigation and maintenance. The landscape history of the city is marked by the transformation of this arid landscape into three fertile valleys, a productive land designed by ancient pre-Inca Peruvian cultures who created a complex irrigation network, traces of which can still be found in the densely occupied Lima. Since the 1940s, these former fertile coastal lands suffered an irreversible change to urban land uses which caused the loss of large area of agricultural plots.


Natural Infrastructure type amunas, to increase infiltration and recharge of aquifers (Figure from Aquafondo, 2020). Lomas, touristic routs along the fog oasis of Lima. Photo captures: Taícia Marques.

The very recent interest in Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) from the Peruvian Ministry of Environment MINAM, provides opportunity to strengthen policies and to create synergies between different initiatives to manage the city's water security and climate change challenges; tackling – at the same time – social and equality challenges (such as water access and availability) which are usually treated separately from environmental issues. A range of different groups from academia, local governments, private business and NGOs are actively involved in: NbS discussions; design and application of strategies; production of evidence and political incidence at different levels. In Lima, a Local Climate Change Plan is in its final design stage, focused on implementing the goals defined in the Paris Agreement. The Plan defines three objectives that are supported by an “Ecosystem” strategy which integrates NbS to conserve the largest natural areas in metropolitan Lima and improve its resilience in the face of increasing temperatures, heat waves and water scarcity.


Strategies and policies have been designed to face Lima's societal challenges in an integrated way – using a green infrastructure or ecosystem focused approach, such as the Water Fund initiative; the Lima Ecological Infrastructure Plan; and the payment for ecosystem services law (MERESE for its Spanish acronym) that supports the Seeding Water Programme. In this framework, there are three strong related initiatives in Lima on NbS occurring at different scales: (1) Water Security Actions, (2) the Lomas Programme, and (3) the Green Belt of Independencia . These three strategies have a direct impact on the settlement of Lima by considering the challenge “ecosystem conservation-land use-housing-wellbeing” with them all using a similar conceptual approach, albeit being different strategies. The Water Security Actions are based on investments in water catching and flow regulating systems in the upper Lima watershed which are currently being deployed through a private water fund, Aquafondo, and a payment for ecosystem services channeled through the Lima water company, SEDAPAL (Sembramos Agua Programme). Aquafondo has implemented several small-scale solutions such as pre-Inca “amunas” (ancestors ditches), for water infiltration and aquifer recharge, the restoration and protection of pastures and the construction of small retention basins, that support upper watershed local communities’ agriculture and grazing activities, whilst increasing and regulating water flows for Metropolitan users. As an example of its achievement, by restoring 1 km of old amunas, it is estimated the water availability may increase by 178,000 m3 of per year on the lower watershed. Focused on the metropolitan limits, the Lomas Programme involves different initiatives by the city government, as well as citizen organisations grouped under the proposal of a Lomas Network to protect this ecosystem. Moreover, it is expected to improve the distribution and equitable safe access to qualified urban green areas (UGA), whose accessibility is largely related to human health, well-being, and social justice. It comes under the umbrella of the Lima Ecological Infrastructure Plan (PEAIE) proposed in 2014; though not yet approved. Its approach is currently being integrated into the new Metropolitan Urban Development Plan (Plan 2040) and the Lima Climate Change Plan, through its Ecosystems Strategy. An important accomplishment was made in 2019, when a considerable portion of Lomas (more than 11,000 hectares) was designated as a Regional Conservation Area (ACR) and a EbA Master Plan is currently being developed with intense community participation, focusing on two main strategies: ecosystem conservation, land use and occupation control; development of ecotourism routes while empowering urban communities. Finally, a complementary strategy is being designed to create a green belt alongside the lomas-city interface, which acts as a buffer zone for this sensitive ecosystem and creates a protective border against the expansion of irregular human settlements while also providing different cultural services and improving biodiversity. The Green Belt Independencia initiative is a pilot intervention that is being implemented in the middle lower-class district of Independencia, in the Northern part of the urban territory. Here 19% of the population lives in high-risk conditions, settled on steep slopes, which are threatened by landslide hazards. An urban forest park of 4,800 native trees irrigated with treated wastewater has been planted here in two phases by a consortium formed by multiple private, public, national, and international parties with strong community support. During the first phase, 3,300 trees were planted by PREDES with USAID support in 2015; and another 1,500 have been recently planted by PERIFERIA (consultants) with a carbon compensation fund from a local construction company.

Potential impacts/benefits: 

It has been shown that the three interventions provide a variety of benefits but the quantification and valuation of ES are still in its early stages. The most evident benefits of the three interventions implemented in Lima relate to:

  • Reduced costs for water treatment
  • Improved water quality
  • Increased well-being
  • Provision of health benefits
  • Sustainable development of coastal regions
  • Increased amount of green open spaces for residents
  • Increased accessibility to green open spaces
  • Social inclusion
  • Social learning about location & importance of NbS
  • Increased stakeholder awareness & knowledge about NbS
  • Increased willingness to invest in NbS
  • Creation of green jobs relating to construction & maintenance of NbS
  • Increased awareness of NbS solution & their effectiveness and co benefits
NbS benefits 
  • Enhancing sustainable urbanisation
Transferability of the result: 

Water Security Actions might soon be upscaling since the first MERESE project has been recently approved. It is expected that the experience gained by projects such as the ones lead by the Aquafondo, may contribute with evidence and lessons learned to be scaled on a high number of natural infrastructure interventions across the watersheds in different regions of the country.

The Lomas Programme is supported by an increasingly strong group of organisations and communities interested in conserving, informing, and boosting tourist routes along the different zones of Lomas. This is aiming to design and implement more sustainable ways to conserve these ecosystems while strengthening essential socio-economic relations. The Green Belt Independencia follows a similar approach to the Lomas Programme, supported by an empowered community eager to create better conditions of living and a healthy place to raise their families. Recognising this fact is extremely relevant in a politically unstable country such as Peru, where usually people take the lead and might be responsible for the continuity, management, and maintenance of those actions.

Lessons learned: 
  • The city of Lima is developing an array of plans, programmes, and projects under the NI approach, deriving from national policies, and including interventions at a regional (watershed), metropolitan and local scale. Recently, MINAM has expressed a positive view regarding the NbS and its related approaches developing in the country. According to the Ministry, it might provide the guidelines for investments that contributes to the formulation of instruments based on NbS actions associated with the post-COVID-19 economic activation, including the creation of jobs related to sustainable production of water by expanding the area covered by Natural Infrastructure.
  • One of the main challenges for the accomplishment of these goals is represented by the conceptual, strategic, and operational integration of such scales involving different governmental levels and groups of stakeholders. For example, at the scale of the city, one of the main barriers is Lima’s jurisdictional fragmentation, which requires an arrangement by a large group of mayors orientated and articulated towards a common goal. The application and expansion of the Nature-Based Solutions also requires evidence and monitoring, which represents greater complexity related to the medium and long-term financing of these actions.
  • There is an evident gap related to the existence of national funds for applied research that must be filled to guarantee the increase of studies and the provision of a large number of opinions on which to build policies and incentive programmes to support NbS. Another general challenge concerns the conceptual opening of the definition and application of principles, criteria and indicators related to NbS, which can represent uncertainties for potential investors and stakeholders.

The Water Security Actions have been achieved through non-profit organisations and private funding, which are complemented by public investments financed through the water tariff (MERESE mechanism), where 1% of the tariff is allocated to a portfolio of 59 projects for approximately $ 30 MM. The MERESE mechanism allows the direct relationship between the interests of water producers (the Andean communities), who are responsible for conserving the integrity of headwaters ecosystems, with the stakeholders that benefit from the provision of this ecosystem service (urban activities and consumers).


Taícia H. N. Marques

Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina


Sustainable Development Goals 
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 15. Life On Land
Key Performance Indicators: