Cuzco potato-growing communities note changing temperatures in the higher elevations.
Crédito: Milagros Salazar/IPS
As Andean Glaciers Recede, Region Steps Forward to Adapt
Por Emilio Godoy
The Andean glaciers are suffering the effects of global warming, with far-reaching effects on water supplies, biodiversity and livelihoods.
CANCÚN, Mexico, Dec 13 (Tierramérica).- The mountainous areas of South America's Andean nations supply water to the coastal cities, are home to important biodiversity, and serve as natural barriers, but global warming threatens those regions, which are home to millions of people.
"It is clear that the glaciers are receding, and some communities can see that the climate is changing. Precipitation is more unstable, and in the cities along the coast face water supply problems," Peru's Environment Minister Antonio Brack told Tierramérica.
In Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile, the glaciers are a principal source of freshwater, and as they shrink, it means less water is available for the cities in the valleys and on the coast.
Peru's total area of mountain ice fields has decreased 22 percent in the last 35 years, with a 12-percent reduction in the volume of water, according to that country's National Environmental Council.
Given the threats hanging over the Andes, the region's nations have formed a consortium for sustainable development, CONDESAN, a member of the Mountain Partnership, created in 2002.
To date, 50 countries, 16 intergovernmental organizations and 107 civil society groups make up the Partnership, which has the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"We are implementing programs to prevent fires in the highlands, to preserve wetlands, and to improve freshwater systems management," Marco Chiu, Ecuador's deputy secretary for climate change, told Tierramérica.
The protection of mountainous areas was a key issue at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place Nov. 28 to Dec. 10 in the Mexican resort city of Cancún.
In the arid regions of Central Asia, Chile, Argentina and Peru, where there is little precipitation, the receding glaciers will have a much greater impact on water availability than in Europe or other Asian regions.
These are the findings of the United Nations Environment Program's report, "High Mountain Glaciers and Climate Change: Challenges to Human Livelihoods and Adaptation," presented in Cancún.
Since 2008, Ecuador has been implementing a program for water adaptation and usage, with 13 pilot plans in six provinces, backed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Development Program.
Meanwhile, Peru is on its way to approving a plan for climate change adaptation and mitigation, which is expected to obtain legal force in January and become part of the national strategy approved in 2003.
Since 2008, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia have been developing a project to adapt to the impacts of receding glaciers in the tropical Andes (PRAA), with the support of the World Bank.
"All of the regions have been affected. The communities are lacking information. There should be a process of appropriation of the studies to participate in the decision-making process," indigenous Quechuan activist Tarcila Rivera said in a Tierramérica interview. She coordinates the Continental Connection of Indigenous Women, and participated in COP 16, along with Brack and Chiu.
In 2002, the UN declared Dec. 11 "International Mountain Day," and this year it was dedicated to indigenous peoples and minorities living in mountainous areas.
"There are weak points in the data, insufficient measurements, lack of experience and insufficient methodological tools to calculate the region's vulnerability. The plan should be to guide us towards what we are going to do against climate change," said Peruvian Edwin Mansilla, coordinator of the climate change unit for the Cuzco regional government.
This region of about 72,000 square kilometers, home to 1.1 million people, holds a quarter of Peru's glaciers, of which 30 percent has disappeared, according to the regional government.
The communities are concerned about the water situation and of the highland wetlands, which provide food for alpaca herds. These camelid cousins of the llama are a source of revenue for the local communities, which sell the alpaca wool to be made into textiles and clothing.
"The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples must be recognized and applied, because the people have survived by using that knowledge," said Rivera.
* IPS correspondent.