Planning Meetings to Focus on Water Management in the Andean Region

The objective of a series of workshops on the Andean region is to generate learning, synergies, and develop inputs for the promotion of multipurpose projects (PMP) at the local-regional level that integrate management of water resources and risk management in a context of climate change. The workshops, titled “Exchange of experiences to promote multipurpose water projects as a measure of adaptation to climate change and risk management in mountain areas,” are organized by the Glaciers Project +.

Officials from Chile, Colombia, and Peru who work on issues related to climate change, energy, and water will meet to identify conditions for scaling up PMPs in the Andean Region and other territories. The workshops are expected to generate a roadmap for regional exchange on the PMPs.

Among the topics to be discussed during the two days of the workshops will be the problem of water in the Andean region, which will focus on the consensual construction of the multipurpose approach to adaptation to climate change, management of water resources and disaster risk in the framework of the NDCs. Discussions will also occur focusing on implementing PMP initiatives.

The workshops will be held in the cities of Bogotá and Santiago, the first of which will be held on April 9 and 10 in the Council Room of the Faculty of Rural and Environmental Studies of the Pontifical Javieriana University in Colombia. The workshop in Santiago will be held on May 2 and 3 at the facilities of the National Irrigation Commission.

This article originally appeared in Spanish on El Proyecto Glaciares.

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Advances in Developing Peru’s National Policy for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems

Peru’s National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM) is taking steps forward in developing the country’s National Policy for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, one of its principal mandates. INAIGEM recently published an article in its institutional journal titled, “Specific Guidelines for Formulation of the Proposal for the National Policy of Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems of Peru,” which serves as the first publicly available content that could be included in the final policy. The goal of the document is to support INAIGEM and the Ministry of Environment with an initial framework for subsequent policy development. Meanwhile, it also aims to set a foundation for an inclusive policy-making process that is representative of the people and landscapes within its purview.

As a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow and then consultant for CARE Peru, I produced this document in collaboration with INAIGEM’s leadership and diverse external stakeholders. To generate its content, I interviewed a variety of experts across government agencies, NGOs, and academia, did a case study of local community perspectives via surveys in the field, and then translated their responses into its policy lines. Meanwhile, via a database I built, I analyzed existing normative environmental structures in Peru on international, national, and subnational scales to determine how a new policy for glaciers and mountain ecosystems would integrate with, complement, or fulfill said structures.

From left to righ is Engr. Jesús Gomez, director of the Department for Research on Glaciers, Engr. Ricardo Villanueva, former director of the Department for Information and Knowledge Management, Executive President Dr. Gisella Orjeda, and Engr. David Ocaña, former director of the Department for Research on Mountain Ecosystems. (Source: INAIGEM)

Although there are a number of normative environmental mechanisms that incorporate some aspect of glaciers or mountain ecosystems across Peruvian governance, there is no specific apparatus for such topics despite their critical importance to human well-being and economic production. Being that there are many sectors and populations that depend on glaciers and mountain ecosystems in a variety of ways, disjointed management of these landscapes has been a major problem. Thus, with the creation of INAIGEM in December 2014, the government determined the policy will be a necessary tool to ensure the sustainable management of glaciers and mountain ecosystems for populations that live within or benefit from them.

Laguna Parón, shot from a glacial moraine in the Parón Valley, with Nevado Pirámide de Garcilaso (5,885 meters) in the background. (Source: Peter Oesterling)

INAIGEM’s leadership recognized that developing the policy and its subsequent implementation must be a collaborative effort for it to achieve positive socio-environmental outcomes in the Andes. According to former executive president, Engr. Benjamín Morales, “A national policy must be made with national participation … I believe that being a policy, the most important part is the country. The country must intervene. The whole Ministry [of Environment] and the other ministries should be involved in this policy.”[ Engr. Morales’s sentiment was based on avoiding a lack of buy-in across institutions, which is characteristic of Peruvian bureaucracy.

A team that summited Nevado Huascarán on a research expedition along with INAIGEM leadership. (Source: INAIGEM)

Meanwhile, INAIGEM’s heads of research activities echoed Engr. Morales’s point. Former Director of Information and Knowledge Management Engr. Ricardo Villanueva emphasized, “It is not only about doing isolated activities, but to develop an integrated and coordinated strategy of action for different institutions with interests in glaciers and mountain ecosystems.” As an example of the need for greater institutional coordination and integration, Engr. David Ocaña, the former head of research on mountain ecosystems said, “I think a policy is necessary because there are many gray areas between institutions. For example, [there are] gray areas between ANA and INAIGEM or with the Ministry Agriculture. The policy is going to be a tool that may not so much eliminate these gray areas but it will be clearer for each actor what their role and function is within what is glaciers and mountain ecosystems.”[

Nevado Chacraraju (6,108 meters) and Laguna 69, shot from the summit of Nevado Pisco (5,752 m). (Source: Peter Oesterling)

The need for clarity and coordination across institutions is a reflection of how multifaceted a Peruvian policy for glaciers and mountain ecosystems must be. There is a regional trend in developing such normative frameworks; for example, with Argentina having its law for protecting glaciers while Chile is developing a policy for mountains. However, Peru’s aim for the policy is unique in the region in terms of mountain-centered normative frameworks. For instance, it must be every bit about forests as glaciers to reflect the dramatic and diverse montane landscapes where glaciated peaks and tropical cloud forests can neighbor each other. Furthermore, the policy must address the country’s notorious tendency for major natural disasters in the Andes as well as an uncertain future in the face of climate change. INAIGEM’s area for intervention is anywhere 1,500 meters in altitude and above, therefore there are numerous issues that the policy will need to incorporate across varying environmental, social, and economic dimensions.

Thus, this initial document aims to be as holistic and comprehensive as possible in covering such dimensions and comes in the form of a potential national policy. Its framework has policy lines that address necessary outcomes across Peru’s diverse mountain landscapes, with four specific policy axes:

  1. Management and Conservation of Glaciers and Andean Water Resources
  2. Recovery and Sustainability of Mountain Ecosystems
  3. Adaptive Capacity Against Climatic, Geological, and Glaciological Risks
  4. Institutionality, Knowledge, and Socio-Environmental Andean Culture
Core sample collection on a glacier. (Source: INAIGEM)

Within each axis, there are general objectives that link to more specific policy lines. The policy lines were constructed in a coordinated and integrated fashion, with the intention of being transversal within the framework as well as with the existing normative environmental mechanisms of the country. The next steps for developing the policy will be to secure appropriate funding then carry out public consultations to engage various interested stakeholders throughout the country to assure that the end result is representative of their needs and generates applicable solutions to many complex problems. Such consultations should ensure that the policy is human-centered, with a specific focus of strengthening the rights and resilience of marginalized Andean populations. Dr. Jorge Recharte, the director of the Andes Program for the Mountain Institute highlighted that, “Peru is a cradle … of several civilizations centered on issues [within the] mountains … The concept of mountains has … a deep historical value in Peru … Peru needs to generate a mountain policy [that] … has to do with values of the country and has to do with … the identity of the nation.”

Once a final policy proposal is complete, it needs approval from the Ministry of Environment and then the Council of Ministers of the Presidency. Hopefully with their backing, the policy can help generate the necessary political will to acknowledge and address the many problems that pertain to glaciers and mountain ecosystems in Peru. Engr. Villanueva emphasized this as he warned, “If the politicians who make decisions are not aware of the importance of glaciers and mountain ecosystems … investments that are required to be made at the level of these territories will be very limited.”

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Roundup: Himalayan GLOFS, Glacier-Fed Rivers in Peru, and New Zealand’s Southern Alps

Trends in GLOF Risk in the Himalayas

From Nature: “Objectively estimating trends in GLOF frequency is challenging as many lakes form in terrain with limited access, making fieldwork impractical. In the HKKHN, outburst floods from glacier lakes initiated mainly between 4,500 and 5,200 m above sea level and some attenuated rapidly, possibly escaping notice in human settlements several thousand vertical metres below. Reliable reports on 40 GLOFs since 1935 are selective. We mapped these GLOFs, originally compiled by regional initiatives, highlighting 32 cases in the Central and Eastern Himalayas in contrast to the very few cases in the northwestern Hindu Kush–Karakoram (HKK) and Nyainqentanglha Mountains. We speculate that these 40 reports preferentially covered large or destructive cases, which makes the assessment of their frequency problematic. In trying to account for this reporting bias, our objective is to estimate GLOF frequency and its changes from a systematic inventory covering the entire HKKHN.”

GLOFs from the Himalayan glaciers can be damaging to surrounding communities. (Source: Karunakar Rayker/Flickr)

New Project Examines Changes in Peru’s River Systems

From Phys.org: “Remote communities in the Peruvian Andes, as well as communities downstream, depend on the water from melting glaciers and mountain ecosystems to provide them with food and power, and to support industry.

But climate change is increasingly putting that in jeopardy, posing a serious threat to future water resources and having potentially severe implications for the vulnerable populations living in river basins-fed by the glaciers.

Now a major research project is looking to establish the precise effects future changes in the glacial system might pose, and how agencies and the communities themselves can work together to mitigate the potential effects of changing water quantity and quality as the glacier retreat.”

Glaciers are extensive in Peru, and many of the nation’s people depend on glacier-red rivers for basic water needs. (Source: McKay Savage/Flickr)

Climate Change Likely to Impact Glacier-Fed Rivers in New Zealand

From International Journal of Climatology: “Future climate change is likely to alter the amount, seasonality and distribution of water available for economic use downstream of alpine areas, so there is a need to forecast glacier net mass loss when assessing future hydrological change. This issue is of considerable relevance to New Zealand, which relies heavily on hydro power for electricity generation. An important river system is the Waitaki, which contains eight hydro generating stations and has a significant input from seasonal snow and glacier melt. Thus, changes in glacier ice volume and atmospheric circulation have long term implications for energy production. The impacts of climate change on water resources are also critical for the Clutha River. This is New Zealand’s largest river with extensive hydro-electricity and irrigation assets. Third, there are close links between glaciers and the large tourism industry in New Zealand, which along with agriculture, is the major driver of the national economy. All these factors mean that there is growing economic concern as to what may happen in the future.”

New Zealand Southern Alps consist of small and large glaciers that respond differently to climate forces. (Source: CameliaTWU/Flickr)

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Nevado Ausangate Glaciers, Peru Retreat, and Lake Formation

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Nevado Ausangate Glaciers, Peru Retreat, and Lake Formation

Here we examine three Ausangate Glaciers in Peru, which descend south from the Nevado Ausangate group of peaks in the Cordillera Vilcanota. A circumnavigation trek around Nevado Ausangate is a favorite for visitors to the Machu Picchu area.

Digital Globe image of the Ausangate Glaciers. Red arrows indicate 1995 terminus location and yellow dots the 2018 terminus location.

The glaciers are just west of Laguna Sibinacocha, and drain into the Rio Vilcanota. Retreat of glaciers in the Cordillera Vilcanota has been rapid since 1975, Veettil et al (2017) noted that ~80 percent of glaciated area below 5,000 meters was lost from 1975-2015, and glacier area overall area had declined 48 percent.  Henshaw and Bookhagen (2014) observed that from 1988-2010, glacial areas in the Cordillera Vilcanota declined annually by ~ 1 percent per year.

Ausangate Glaciers in 1995 Landsat and 2018 Sentinel image. Red arrows indicate 1995 terminus location and yellow arrows the 2018 terminus location. The development of three proglacial lakes at the terminus of each glacier is evident.

In 1995 the three glaciers all terminate in incipient proglacial lakes. The terminus of #3 is debris covered. By 2000 each of the glaciers is still terminating in an expanding proglacial lake. Glacier #1 and #2 have developed to a size of ~0.1 square kilometers. Glacier #3 still shows limited lake development.

By 2018 Glacier #1 has retreated 450 m and is now separated from the lake. Glacier #2 has retreated 400 m and no longer reaches the lake. Glacier #3 is still in contact with the lake which still has debris covered stagnant ice covering a portion of the basin. This lake has an area of 0.13 square kilometers, and could reach an area of ~0.2 square kilometers depending on debris cover thickness.

The terminus of each glacier has retreated above 5,000 m since 1995. The glaciers each have extensive crevassing and maintains a snow covered accumulation zone, indicating they can survive current climate. Veettil et al (2017) noted that glacier area above 5,300 m was relative stable, for Ausangate Glaciers the area above 5,200 m is in the accumulation zone and has been relatively stable.

The formation of new lakes and the retreat from proglacial lakes has been a common occurrence in recent decades for Andean glaciers in Peru such as Manon Glacier and Soranano Glacier. The key role of glaciers to runoff is illustrated by the fact that 77 percent of lakes connected to a glacier watershed have maintained the same area or expanded, while 42 percent of lakes not connected to a glacier watershed have declined in area, according to Henshaw and Bookhagen (2014). The Ausangate Glaciers supply runoff to the Machupicchu Hydroelectric Power Plant managed by EGEMSA, which has an operating capacity of 90 megawatts. The Vilcanota River becomes the Urubamba River further downstream.

Ausangate Glaciers in a 2000 Landsat image. The development of two of the three proglacial lakes at the terminus of each glacier is evident.

This article was originally published on the American Geophysical Union blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.

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Video of the Week: Reviving the Quechuan Language

This week’s video features the passion project of Quechua activist Irma Alvarez to preserve the Quechua tradition through orality and writing. Quechua refers to the original group of languages spoken by the Incan Empire in the Andes Mountains. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, use of the language was suppressed as the indigenous groups were indoctrinated to Catholicism and the Spanish language. Quechua is a linguistic family wherein distinct dialects vary from community to community.

Despite the lack of printed material written in the Quechuan language, indigenous peoples clung to their mother tongue. It is estimated around ten million people still speak it across five South American countries today. Without literacy, however, the language is vulnerable to extinction. Alvarez is on a mission to teach Quechuan speakers how to read and write in their native language by increasing access and availability of printed materials. The Quechua Alliance in the United States hosts an annual meeting as part of the effort to preserve the culture of the high Andes by expanding the availability of the Quechuan oral tradition. The video has English subtitles.

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Qoyllur Rit’i: Changing Tradition Due to Glacial Melt

Each year, during the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, thousands of pilgrims gather from Peru and Bolivia to celebrate Qoyllur Rit’i, an indigenous ritual containing elements of both Andean and Christian religious cultures.

Festival Site of Qoyllur Rit’i in Cuzco, Peru, 2013 (Source: Eric Lafforgue/Flickr).

A recent article published in E&E News offers new insight on retreat of Qollqepunku Glacier and explains how specific traditions of Qoyllur Rit’i are changing in response to temperature increase and glacial melt. The article highlights recent legislative restrictions as well as changing values of Andean people. 

A Brief History of Qoyllur Rit’i

Qoyllur Rit’i is Peru’s greatest pagan-Christian festival, which intertwines the two religious cultures. Traditionally, during the festival, pilgrims process to the top of Mount Sinakara wearing colorful costumes, carrying flags and crosses, and playing musical instruments.

A young Peruvian girl during Qoyllur Rit’i, 2013 (Source: Eric Lafforgue/Flickr).

The journey covers around 18.6 miles spatially, and the glacial peak reaches over 3 miles in elevation. During the festival, pilgrims stop at a small church where they lay drawings and figurines.

Ukukus, individuals wearing shaggy alpaca robes and masks, journey to the peak of the mountain in the night, chop off large chunks of ice, and carry the ice back down. This practice has been forbidden in recent years. 

Some believe that the act of carrying the ice is penance for their sins; others think the meltwater from the ice possesses medicinal properties and can cure ailments.

By completing this ritual, pilgrims believe that apus, the spirits of the mountains, will bestow blessings and fulfill aspirations.

Implications of Glacial Melt

Qoyllur Rit’i is based on beliefs that the glacier is awake and responsive and that Mother Earth and apus protect and provide for its people, but as the glacier recedes, the Peruvian government has set restrictions on the tradition.

Pilgrims kneeling at Qoyllur Rit’i, with Qollqepunku Glacier in the background (Source: Zoila Mendoza)

“One of the most important parts of the ritual at the sanctuary had been forbidden because of the glacial melt,” Zoila Mendoza, professor at the University of California, Davis and an attendee of Qoyllur Rit’i, told GlacierHub. “This was, the bringing of chunks of ice from the top of the glacier to be taken by pilgrims back to their towns which was the final step to other secret rituals that happened on the ice. The prohibition went into effect around 2002.”

Ukukus can no longer bring back ice or water from the glacier, and many pilgrims no longer travel up the mountain and instead, watch from dry land.

“More drastically, as of this year, the rituals at the snow peak have been stopped for the same reason of the melting,” Mendoza said. “I know that the pilgrims have been very disturbed that the rituals relating to climbing to the ice and coming down with ice cannot continue to exist breaking an important cycle in the whole celebration, a celebration that has to do with fertility and well-being for the whole Cusco region.”

Ukukus celebrating at high elevations (Source: Manuel Medir)

Beliefs regarding Qoyllur Rit’i are also shifting. As the snow peak melts, locals conclude that the deities are losing their powers.

“Eventually Andean religion may erode and these legends may become meaningless,” claims Inge Bolin, research associate at Vancouver Island University.

 

 

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The Future Disappearance of Quelccaya Ice Cap

Quelccaya is the largest tropical ice cap in the world. It is located in the Central Andes of Peru and has a summit elevation of about 5,680 meters. A recent study suggests that the ice cap might soon cease to exist. Researchers used climate data to examine the impacts of the different forcings to determine how imminent its future disappearance is, and to what extent human activity affects the timing.

About 99 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers are located in the Andes, with around 70 percent found in Peru. Glaciers in the tropical Andes are critical to the regional environment. Through runoff, they provide a much-needed water supply during the dry season. A future disappearance of Quelccaya Ice Cap (QIC) could mean significant changes to the ecosystem, impacts on tourism, and consequences to the culture and traditions of the local populations.

Snowy mountain peaks on the Andes mountains in Peru, surrounded by beautiful fluffy clouds.
Andes mountains in Peru (Source: Michael Mcdonough/Flickr).

Scientists used daily air temperature and snow height data to build projections of retreat at the QIC. Air temperature over the Peruvian Andes has increased over the last six decades, leading to greater retreat. Rising air surface temperatures are one of the major contributors to this retreat, although variations in precipitation and snowfall contribute as well. Meanwhile, El Nino and the South American Summer Monsoon can also impact QIC conditions, but on an interannual timescale.

The researchers also examined the different Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios (RCPs) that play a huge role in the future of tropical glaciers. RCPs are used in scientific modeling to provide temporal projections on greenhouse gas concentrations. These concentrations contribute to warming and have a great effect on glaciers. The rate of warming is typically amplified with elevation in many mountain regions due to elevation dependent feedbacks, which are explained further in the study.

Results of the research show that through anthropogenic and natural forcings, QIC loses mass at its front and base. This means that by around 2050, the ice cap could completely disappear. Even with a great reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations, results indicate that an eventual disappearance can be expected closer to the end of the century. The researchers further explained that these findings are consistent with observations of other glaciers in the tropics. We can look at glaciers in Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela, as they have also experienced accelerated retreat over the last decades.

Andrew Malone, a Visiting Assistant Professor at The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), told GlacierHub more about the shrinking of QIC and its impacts. “The largest impact would be on loss of water resources for communities both locally and downstream. In the short-term accelerated melting actually increases water resources. But as ice melts, that ‘stored’ water shrinks and shrinks, and at some point the glacier reservoir becomes so small that the total run-off contribution starts to decrease with time,” he said.

The melting of Qori Kalis glacier. The left is the glacier in 1978. Right image is from 2011, presenting a retreated glacier and the lake left from melt (Source: Bird Lai/Flickr).

Malone went on to explain that as glaciers melt, lakes form in their place. These lakes are dammed by glacial moraines, which are formed by buildup of falling dirt and rocks from melting glaciers. Moraines are not structurally sound. As ice falls off glaciers and into the new lakes, large waves  can form and flood the downstream landscape. Malone said that this has happened to the lake in Qori Kalis valley, and as a result livestock were lost with the flooding. Similar events can be expected to happen at QIC as well.

While there is much research and understanding of the glacial and environmental impacts of climate change, the human impacts should also be considered. GlacierHub spoke with anthropologist Gustavo Valdivia, who is currently doing research on the Andes. His research looks at the impacts of QIC glacier melt on the nearby community of Phinaya. This community relies on herding alpaca, selling alpaca wool for their livelihood; thus, they are very dependent on runoff waters to irrigate the pastures for their flocks. At present the Phinaya community benefits from the greater runoff, Valdivia said, but this abundance is not likely to last long. The livestock might also be at risk from flooding, as seen in Qori Kalis.

Alpaca from the Phinaya community of Peru (Source: Christian Aid/Flickr).

Valdivia added that there is a key difference between understanding and experiencing climate. Researchers understand the science behind glacial retreat and warming, but it’s the people who experience these changes. He highlighted the importance of building genuine communication with scientific information. As glaciers continue to melt, it’s vital to build connections to the people and communities who are affected, examining ways in which we can adapt to the changes in our climate and environment. Though each community faces climate change in a specific way, they are also part of a global process of change.

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Roundup: Deadly Glacier Calving & Groundbreaking Assessments

Calving Glacier Kills Tourist in Norway

From The Local Norway: “An Austrian man has been killed in Norway after a huge block of ice calved off the Nigardsbreen glacier, causing a shower of water and ice which threw him into the fast-flowing meltwater. The man […] had ignored the warning signs and crossed over a safety cordon to get closer to the glacier.”

Read more about the deadly incident here.

According to the story, the man had ignored warning signs and crossed a safety barrier to get closer to Nigardsbreen Glacier (Source: The Local Norway/Twitter).

 

Identifying the Highest Plants on Earth

From Alpine Botany: “Three specimens from the 1952 Everest expedition are reviewed and analyzed, bringing the number of species sharing the title of ‘highest known vascular plant’ from two to five… This taxonomic investigation contributes to our knowledge of the biogeography of Himalayan flora and opens the way for future field-based investigations of mechanisms limiting plant growth on the roof of the world.”

Check out more about this important discovery here.

Mt. Everest (Source: Wangpin Thondup/Flickr).

Shrinking Glaciers and Growing Lakes in Peruvian Andes

From Global and Planetary Change: “In the tropical Andes, current rates of glacier loss are investigated to some point but associated future extent of both vanishing glacier and forming lake areas and volumes are poorly explored… Our current baseline and future projections suggest that a decrease in glacier shrinkage is also followed by a slowdown in lake formation and particularly volume growth which might have already developed or occur in the near-future.”

See for yourself what this assessment determined here.

Image of Pastoruri Glacier, a vulnerable glacier in the Peruvian Andes (Source: Guillaume Weill/Flickr).

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The Struggle for Water in the Andes

A version of this post originally appeared in the University Post, University of Copenhagen, on May 17, 2018.

It is four o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday. The 25-year-old Peruvian man, whom we will call Jhonatan, closes the door to his small cabin, in which his parents also are beginning their daily chores. The cabin is located at 3,700 meters altitude in the Andes Mountains. Jhonatan begins his journey up the mountainside in front of him with a pickaxe on his back.

After a four hour hike in the chilly mountain air, he arrives at his final destination– the place where the canal splits in two. Jhonatan begins shoveling mud and stones from one of the two water passages into the other. Soon, the water changes its course, and Jhonatan’s work is done.

During the next eight hours, the water will find its way to Jhonatan’s fields. Then a new villager will have reached the canal to take his turn on shoveling mud and stones to the benefit of other fields in the local community. The water users in the community will keep taking turns every eight hours until it once again is Jhonatan’s turn to climb the mountain.

”They are poor but well-organized,” the young assistant professor Mattias Borg Rasmussen says. He continues, ”The amount of work they every day put into getting water to their fields and out of their taps is amazing.”

The Abandonment by the State

Rasmussen has followed two Peruvian village societies in the Andes Mountains in order to understand how they value water and claim authority over it. The love for Peru is clearly visible in his office, with Latin American maps and colorful tapestry on the wall. The enthusiasm began during a visit in 2001 and developed during his year as an exchange student in Peru in 2003 to 2004. It made him come back to do his M.A., Ph.D. and postdoc. Over the years, great changes have happened.

“In the 2000s, Peru experienced an enormous economic development. You could see how Lima changed as a city in the 10 years. More and more shopping malls and great restaurants appeared,” Rasmussen says.

Lake Palcacocha above the main city of Huaraz is drained using siphons to avoid Glacier Lake Outburst Floods. In 1941, a GLOF levelled Huaraz to the ground (Source: Mattias Borg Rasmussen).

Not everybody in Peru enjoys the benefits of the economic growth. In the small societies in the mountains, Rasmussen witnessed a growing inequality. Still more than half of the children were chronically undernourished, and the villagers were on their own when it comes to the increasing difficulties to access and distribute water. Difficulties were exacerbated by the acceleration of melting glaciers in the Andes Mountains due to climate change. At first, the glaciers will create larger amounts of water streaming down the mountainside, but after a certain amount has melted, smaller amounts of water will be flowing downhill. The small mountain villages Rasmussen worked in have less water compared to before.

”They do not experience an equal and fair access to water… There is a lot more attention to meet other parts of the Peruvian society’s needs,” Rasmussen says. “There are great state-sponsored irrigation systems at the coast, which they know exist and they know how much money is spent on them. So they ask: why do we not get a share of this?”

The Peruvians in the villages said they were “abandoned by the state.” This abandonment combined with a “troublesome geography” makes Peru “one of the most vulnerable countries in the context of climate-change,” according to Rasmussen.

Adding Anthropology into a Scientific Calculation

As an anthropologist, Rasmussen belongs to a minority at the faculty of science at the University of Copenhagen. At the Department of Food and Resource Economics, he is part of an interdisciplinary group working on development issues in the global South. Here different worlds of academia intertwine and support each other. When talking about the effects of melting glaciers in Peru, Rasmussen cannot make complex calculations of glaciers, but still his knowledge is valuable in order to understand how people manage the water available. The management has great influence on the actual consequences of the melting ice. This sort of contribution is shown in an article he made with glaciologists.

”I think and hope that when we keep trying to explain and understand other peoples’ reality, we may be able to include them when we undertake new measures,” Rasmussen elaborates.

In the mountain villages, the small communities manage their water through systems of committees and commissions. Jhonatan participates in one of the area’s local committees in which he and other users of the canals collaborate to improve existing canals by, for example, cementing the ground of the canals to improve the water flow. The committees also organize the construction of new canals and collaborate on maintenance of existing ones.

A community member inspects the construction of a new irrigation canal (Source: Mattias Borg Rasmussen).

“Every once in a while the users of the canal would meet up with bucket, shovel and donkey– ready to clean up the canal,” Rasmussen says. On top of the committees, Jhonatan is also part of the local commission in which 20 committees collaborate to get the largest amounts of water possible to the area. The immense collaboration emerges from cultural ideas.

”They have a very strong cultural understanding that water is a common good… They see water as life,” he says.

This is one of the reasons why the villagers feared the state would put prices on the water, as seen in Chile, for example. Knowledge on local ideas and thoughts is crucial in order not to let one perception of life (for example, a western idea of water as a resource with a price) rank above another.

“You start to erase other peoples’ lifeworld. You establish a hierarchy where our valuation of something is more important and valid than theirs,” Rasmussen says.

The Whole Family on a Field Trip

During his research in the Peruvian mountains, Rasmussen faced some challenges. “It is a hard place to work. It is not the easiest people to get on close terms with, it takes a lot of patience and attention,” he explains.

His toughest challenge, though, emerged far from the Andes Mountains. Rasmussen recalls the sacrifices on the home front during his three-month fieldwork in his postdoc when his oldest son was one year old. “There is no doubt that is my biggest challenge,” he says, referring to balancing life at home with long-term fieldwork.

But, it seems that he may have found a way to kill two birds with one stone. In 2017, Rasmussen took the family with him on his field trip to Argentina. The family had grown a member, and the eldest turned four during their stay. Apart from not being separated from the family, the family trip had another surprising bonus.

”I had my big boy with me in the field most of the days, where I was out talking with people. Because I had him with me, it was easier to talk with people because they could see what sort of character I was,” Rasmussen says. He continues, “If you come as a stranger to an unfamiliar place, people want to measure you to know what sort of person has arrived. To have my boy with me meant I already was shaped in a sort of familiar picture.”

In the future, Rasmussen might repeat the family-fieldwork success in Patagonia in Argentina, where his next project takes place. The subject is natural resources, and this time he and colleague Marieve Pouliot will focus on the resource conflicts with the local citizens on one side and national parks trying to control the resources on the other.

”It is a very good place to understand what kind of mechanisms– it can be legal, institutional or cultural– open up a region to extraction of natural resources,” Rasmussen explains. He says about his future hopes for his research on frontier dynamics, something which he has already written about with Christian Lund, “I want to do something larger on how Patagonia is made into a place favorable for extracting natural resources.”

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Roundup: Religion, Economic Impacts, and Glacial Recession

Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Himalayan Rivers

From Environment Science and Policy: “In order to quantify the effect of climate changes on hydropower and fisheries, we developed an integrated assessment framework that links biophysical models (positive degree-day model, hydrologic model, run-of-river power system model, and fishery suitability index) and economic models. This framework was used to demonstrate the framework’s utility for gaining insights into the impacts of changed river flow on hydropower and fisheries of the Trishuli River in the High Mountain Asia (HMA) Region.”

Read more about the research here.

Langtang Valley, Trishuli River, Nepal (Source: Rameshjarvis/Creative Commons).

 

Climate, Earth and God

From World Development: “Based on fieldwork in agro-pastoral communities in highland Cusco, Peru, this study examines climate perceptions in terms of how local community members understand and explain changing climatic conditions… For example, Jurt et al. note that some residents attributed the retreat of nearby glaciers to the abandonment of traditional offerings to the mountains (or apus, which have a similar ontological status as pachamama in traditional Andean belief). Bolin suggests that in her study areas, also in the Cusco region, ‘some indigenous people have wondered what they have done wrong to deserve the wrath of the gods.’”

Read more about the research here.

Cayetano Huanca, Peru (Source: Oxfam International/Flickr).

 

Recession and Future Lake Formation on Drang Drung Glacier

From Environmental Earth Sciences: “Our analysis indicated that Drang Drung glacier shrunk by 13.84 percent from 1971 to 2017. Meteorological projections of temperature and precipitation were used to understand climatic changes over Drang Drung region. The snout of the glacier has retreated by 925 m since 1971 at the rate of 21.11 ma−1. However, the snout retreat radically accelerated since 2014 at 60 ma−1. Analysis of available satellite data suggested that the proglacial lake formed around 2014. The lake has expanded to 16.62 ha in 2017. ”

Read more about the research here.

Photo of the Drang-Drung Glacier
Mountain glaciers like Drang-Drung Glacier in Northern India are contributing to sea-level rise.

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Roundup: Project Trumpmore, Yak Herders, & the 2018 St Andrews Prize

Glacier Art: “Project Trumpmore” to Carve President’s Face on Melting Iceberg

From the official website of Project Trumpmore: “Global warming is a huge, abstract concept… We think that in its intangibility, global warming lacks a concrete symbol. One that would prove it exists, or not. That’s what we are setting out to do: a scientific art project… We hope that the more conversation takes place around our monument and global warming, the better possibilities politicians have to make concrete fact-based decisions.”

Read more about the project and ways to contribute here.

Finnish climate activists and artists plan to carve President Trump’s face into Arctic ice (Source: RT/Twitter).

Bhutanese Yak Herders’ Perceptions of Glacier Retreat

From BioOne: “A questionnaire survey was conducted to understand how a mountain ecosystem in northern Bhutan is perceived by local yak herders to be changing under climate warming… The questionnaire sought information on herders’ awareness and perceptions of weather patterns, climate changes, and their impact on vegetation, herding practices, and livelihoods… The study concluded that yak herders’ perceptions provide critical signs of warming and their vulnerability to changing climatic conditions in the alpine environment.”

Find out more about their perspectives on how a warming climate would impact their lives here.

A new study shows how Yak herders from Bhutan perceive climate change (Source: Deanne June Scanlan/Twitter).

The Mountain Institute, Peru, Wins Major Environmental Award

From the 2018 St Andrews Prize formal announcement: The Mountain Institute, Peru, “which integrates 2,000 years of indigenous knowledge of water management in the Andes with contemporary science and technology to create hybrid solutions that improve water security, support livelihoods, strengthen communities and increase ecosystem-wide resilience in mountain communities has won the St Andrews Prize for the Environment 2018.”

Check out more about this prestigious environmental award and the Mountain Institute, Peru, here.

The Mountain Institute, Peru, collaborates with indigenous highland communities in Peru to restore traditional water management techniques (Source: Univ of St Andrews/Twitter).

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‘Fire & Ice on the Mountain’: A Conversation with the Filmmakers

Bill Gentile, an independent filmmaker and American University professor, has recently released a short documentary film, “Fire and Ice on the Mountain.” The film was produced on assignment for American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and investigates the connections between religion and climate change in Peru.

For the research, Gentile teamed up with Karsten Paerregaard, a Danish anthropologist who has studied Peru for the past 30 years. Together, they explore how the ongoing retreat of Huaytapallana Glacier, located near the city of Huancayo in the central highlands of Peru, affects the local people’s worldview, based on Andean cultural traditions, with particular emphasis on their spiritual relationship with nature and Pachamama (Earth Mother).

GlacierHub interviewed Bill Gentile and Karsten Paerregaard about the film to find out more about how climate change is forcing locals to adapt their traditions.

GlacierHub: Was the local community in Huancayo accessible and willing to share their thoughts on the changes they observed in the glaciers? Were they willing to discuss their religious beliefs?

Karsten Paerregaard: We were well received in Huancayo… Huancayo’s Catholic Church showed great interest in the video and took its time to introduce us to its work. The same happened when we visited the regional government in Huancayo and Pedro Marticorena, the laya mayor [head shaman] on his premises. People are generally keen to discuss the city’s environmental problems. Many are also pleased to relate these to religious issues even though they do not always agree on how religion and climate change are linked.

GH: How is the glacier important in the communities’ traditional practices and religious beliefs? What does it represent?

KP: Glaciers are critical to not only the city of Huancayo but also the neighboring rural communities. This is because they provide them with fresh water, as well as they symbolize the Apus (the mountain deities) whom the local believe control the water flow.

Glacier melt is a physical sign of a rapidly changing nature that causes widespread concern in the city, which is experiencing contamination in many respects: traffic, mining, garbage, etc. However, exactly how glacier retreat, water scarcity and pollution are related is a very contested question in Huancayo. Only a few attribute it to global climate change, and many believe that it is human activities that are causing the city’s environmental problems.

GH: How has the connection with the glaciers developed?

KP: Glaciers have always been there, and as such, they are seen as symbols of the Apu’s powers. Nevertheless, recently people have become concerned about the avalanches they occasionally cause— the last big ones took place in the early 1990s— and currently they are worried that they will disappear altogether. From being a symbol of respect and fear, they have now become  an issue of concern and compassion.

GH: How do Andean worldviews express themselves in the daily life of people in the region?

KP: Generally, people are rather syncretic in their religious belief, sometimes tapping into the Andean worldview and sometimes into Catholicism, but more recently the former has gained momentum. This is partly related to glacier melt and the concern for its consequences for Huancayo and partly to the growing feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about the future.

Many visit the mountains to ask Apus for favors in their personal lives, but at the same time, people are becoming aware of the impact of their own actions on the environment and, in particular, the glaciers. This creates confusion about the mutual relationship between humans and nature, which prompts people to review fundamental aspects of their religious beliefs.

GH: Why do you think the regional government is limiting the pollution in the Huaytapallana glacier? Do you think this is influenced by religious groups?

KP: Huaytapallana has been declared a protected area by the national government and it is the regional authorities’ responsibility to implement the regulations associated with its status. The different regional governments have tried to do this with varying degree of success.

Bill and I were impressed by their commitment, particularly by the young woman (Vanessa) who is currently responsible for protecting the environment of Huaytapallana. Regardless of the resistance she encounters from people visiting the glacier, including those who participate in the annual celebration of the Andean New Year at the foot of the glacier.

GH: How do you think the religious practices and festivities will be affected when the glacier retreat is even more advanced than it is?

KP: Glacier retreat attracts more people every year, which suggests that climate change is an issue of serious concern in Huancayo. Nonetheless, the growing number of participants is also a reason for concern.

Bill and I noticed that Pedro Marticorena, as well as some of his followers, are becoming more aware of the impact their activities are having on the glacier. Eventually, they have to modify these and adapt their religious practices and beliefs to the changing environment.

GH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Bill Gentile: The biggest challenge facing the project was finding characters who can help transmit important information from the field to the audience. I was lucky to be working with Karsten, who had the patience to put up with a person (me) pointing a camera at him and asking questions all day. He is a gold mine of information and is articulate enough to convey that information in a compelling way… In addition, and as Karsten points out, the many Peruvians whom we met on our journey were welcoming and generous with their time.

GH: How has the film been received?

BG: American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS), which funded my trip, was delighted with the way the film explains the issue of religion and climate change in Peru.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting published a piece on “Fire and Ice on the Mountain” on its website because it addresses the “under-reported, systemic issues” that the Pulitzer Center is most concerned about. I have been using the film in my classes as a teaching tool. Students and colleagues find it inspiring.

GH: What plans do you have for the film?

BG: I will be entering some film festivals and will continue to use it as a teaching tool.

GH: What is your greatest satisfaction in having made this film?

BG: As with any of the films I have made, my deepest satisfaction is taking part in the global conversation that we call “journalism.” I am lucky and privileged to be able to travel, to seek truth, to create, to meet fascinating people, to explore their lives and to communicate their reality to people in other parts of the world.As you know, we live in a time when truth is under attack. I take great pride and even greater satisfaction in defending it.

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