Rivers as Political Boundaries: Peru and its Dynamic Borders

Friday, 19 December 2014
Catalina Escobar1, Jorge D Abad1, Adrian Mikhail Palaci Garcia1, Collin James Ortals1, Christian E Frias1 and Jorge Vizcarra2, (1)University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Campus, Pittsburgh, PA, United States, (2)Peruvian Navy, Lima, Peru
Rivers, although inherently dynamic, have been chosen as political boundaries since the beginning of colonization for several reasons. Such divisions were chosen namely for their defensive capabilities and military benefits, and because they were often the first features mapped out by explorers. Furthermore, rivers were indisputable boundaries that did not require boundary pillars or people to guard them. However, it is important to understand the complexities of a river as a boundary. All rivers inevitably change over time through processes such as accretion, deposition, cut-off, or avulsion, rendering a political boundary subject to dispute. Depending upon the flow, size, and surrounding land, a river will migrate differently than others. As these natural features migrate one country loses land while another gains land leading to tension between legal rigidity and fluid dynamism. This in turn can manifest in social disruption due to cultural differences, political upheaval, or conflict risk as a result of scarce water resources.

The purpose of this research is to assess the temporal and spatial variability of the political boundaries of Peru that follow rivers. Peru shares borders with Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador. A large part of its northern border with Colombia follows the Putumayo River and later the Amazon River. Part of its eastern border with Brazil follows the Yavari River and later the Yaquirana River. These rivers are natural features used as political boundaries yet they differ in how each migrates. By means of a spatial and temporal analysis of satellite images it was possible to obtain erosion and deposition areas for the Putumayo River, the portion of the Amazon River that is part of the Peruvian boundary, the Yavari River, and the Yaquirana River. The erosion and deposition areas were related to land distribution among Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. By examining the Digital Elevation Model one can see how the altitude of the surrounding land affects the watersheds and thus better understand the dynamic of rivers.

Ultimately, this research combines data regarding the morphodynamics of these rivers with historical insight on border treaties in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of political implications and social repercussions of dynamic boundaries.