Climate Change

Climate Change


Peru lies near the intersection of several major factors affecting global climate. It is also among the most biologically diverse countries on earth. Peru’s enormous biodiversity is matched by an equally impressive human cultural and archaeological history that indicates that water, or the lack of it, is likely to affect Peru’s national development.

Huascarán National Park, Peru encompasses the majority of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range which contains the highest tropical mountains and the largest tropical ice fields in the world. The effects of climate change and glacial retreat were not considered major park management issues in the early 1990’s when CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and the University of Calgary were providing technical and financial support for the first Management Plan of the park.. They certainly are now. Back then the time was of great political social upheaval and the park management plan was ultimately completed with a new commitment towards public consultation.

Over the past 20 years there have been many achievements yet most have come through programs directed by external agencies, most notably The Mountain Institute of West Virginia. These initiatives have failed to produce any significant change in the resource management policies, programs or capabilities of the Park which remains mired in an excessively bureaucratic park management system, one that has placed tourism licensing, insurance and liability concerns over habitat conservation, restoration, water and waste management issues. The widespread grazing of cattle and introduced livestock by local indigenous communities remains unchecked with no long term strategy in place to reduce this pressure and restore native habitat while providing viable economic alternatives to the local communities Peru is no stranger to the effects of climate change. It’s archaeological treasures provide evidence suggesting that entire human cultures were extinguished by drought on various occasions prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

Over 70% of Peru’s population is located along its desert Pacific coast and the western slope of the Andes. In addition, over 80% of Peru’s electricity is generated from hydro plants on the western side of the Andes and over 90% of its food production and agricultural exports are produced here. Yet less than 2% of Peru’s freshwater supplies drain to the western side of the Andes with the remaining 98% flowing east of the Andes into the Amazon Basin.

Of the 2,500 km2 of glacial ice fields found along the crest of the Andes between Colombia and Bolivia approximately 71% are located in Peru, and of this about 35% is found in the Cordillera Blanca. Monitoring of the Cordillera Blanca’s ice fields has been conducted since the 1940´s by various government and non government organization. The results are concerning. From 1970 to 2007 an estimated 30% of the Cordillera Blanca’s 723.4 km2 of ice was lost with half of this occurring in the past ten years. The average linear retreat of the glaciers has more than doubled.

The Santa River captures all drainage coming off the western side of the Cordillera Blanca. The Santa River watershed occupies nearly 30% of the surface area of the region of Ancash. Regional precipitation was measured at above the historical average, from 1977 to 2007, while, the stream flows in the Santa River remained flat and have begun to decline. Declining stream flows in the face of increased precipitation and increased glacial melting are cause for concern.

The Santa River provides hydroelectric power and irrigation water to a considerable portion of Peru’s north-central coast. Threats to primary food production areas are a major concern in a country with only 2.9% arable land, one of the smallest arable land bases on earth.

The World Health Organization has identified Peru as the third highest risk country on earth for climate change impacts on human health. Diseases and disease vectors are now appearing at higher elevations and in locations never previously reported. As freshwater supplies dwindle to human populations on the west side of the Andes the risk of increased human migration to the eastern slope of the Andes increases.
Peru’s strong economic situation allows it an opportunity to dedicate resources for the problems. Yet the country has only begun to recognize the situation.

A National Water Authority whose first objective is to develop a National Water Policy and Plan was only created in March of 2008. The current Water Laws are hopelessly ineffective and unenforceable. The current regulations employ no economic instruments, no charges on water consumption and no incentives to promote conservation in the rural areas. A proposed new water law with new institutional and regulatory structures is currently being prepared. The United Nations Development Program is currently funding the development of a National Climate Change Strategy for Peru which includes an evaluation of the changes occurring and likely to occur in the Santa River basin.

Water consumption must be tied to costs and economic incentives for conservation across all industries and jurisdictions. Greater investments are needed to expand the availability and use of more efficient agricultural irrigation systems.

The use of Peru’s growing natural gas supplies to help fuel its electrical generating stations and to reduce the country’s reliance on hydro power needs to be considered. A National Colonization Control Strategy and Plan is urgently needed and zoning controls imposed along the eastern slope of the Andes by all political jurisdictions based on the protection of parks and reserve areas. Significant investments in desalinization plants will be required to reduce the demand for water for human consumption in the major coastal cities like Lima.

As for Huascarán Park and the Cordillera Blanca .equitable alternatives must be defined with local communities to eliminate the grazing of introduced livestock inside the Park. This should be combined with a major reforestation program.

By: Andean Alliance, Environment
Edited from the original paper submission to the University of Calgary 2008. The original can be found by going to