Melting Peruvian glaciers threaten water supplies

Saturday, March 06, 2010

PeruMany communities living near glaciers in Peru depend on run-off from glaciers to irrigate crops and pastures.

However, rising temperatures due to climate change mean little snow is left on the mountains, leaving local people at risk of no water.

Centre for Agriculture Development (CEDAP) helps Andean farmers overcome this threat and make the most sustainable use of their diminishing water supplies.

Martin’s farm lies in the foothills of the Ritipata mountain range in southern Peru.  In Quechua language, Ritipata means covered in snow. For generations, Martin’s community has relied on the run-off as its primary water source.

However, with the glaciers receding, local people are forced to take urgent action.

Following training from CEDAP, Martin now uses a sprinkler to irrigate his crops. He designed it himself using a plastic bottle.  This form of drip irrigation prevents flooding, soil erosion and water wastage.

Martin is now a leader in his community, teaching others to build terraces and irrigation channels that protect crops and preserve water.

Adapting to climate change

Martin’s is just one of the many poor communities in developing countries which are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.

South America contains more than 99 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, and Peru is home to 70% of them.  However in the last 30 years, around 22% of the country’s glaciers have disappeared.

Glaciers store about 75% of the world's freshwater and play a crucial role in slowly releasing water.  Once flow from glaciers becomes irregular, so does water availability.

Rising air temperatures are accelerating the retreat of glaciers and climate models predict that this warming will be most pronounced at high altitudes where most tropical glaciers exist.

The average temperatures in the Andes have already increased by about 1˚C in the last 100 years, contributing to the melting of glaciers.

As the threat builds, the need for projects such as CEDAP’s will increase.