Studying glacier retreat to meet its challenges

Projet terminé
Melting glaciers (photo: the “Glacier 513” in Peru) cause a range of adverse consequences for people who live in the highlands of the Andes or on the downstream plains. © CARE PERU

The retreat of Andean glaciers has accelerated in recent years. Supported by the SDC, Swiss and Peruvian experts are working together to document the phenomenon. At the end of the chain, the rural people of Peru are seeing their daily lives disrupted by the glacier retreat. It is, then, essential that they be included in discussions about the risks.

Pays/région Thème Période Budget
Changement climatique & environnement
Politique de l’environnement
01.11.2011 - 31.12.2015
CHF  4’962’000

As in the Swiss Alps, glaciers in the Andes are in danger of someday disappearing because of global warming. Meanwhile, melting ice is bringing a range of adverse consequences for the people who live in the highlands of Peru or on the downstream plains. Glacial lake outbursts, flash floods, landslides or avalanches are all dangers faced by the inhabitants. Vegetable crops also suffer from disturbed irrigation flows.

Active since 2008 in issues of adaptation to climate change in the Peruvian Andes, the SDC decided to conduct a pilot study of the evolution of the “Glacier 513”, located near the municipality of Carhuaz in central Peru -- with the firm belief that the data collected may also be extrapolated to other glaciers.

Three areas of intervention

The “Glaciares 513” project includes a number of different actors – the University of Zurich’s Glaciology and Geomorphodynamics Group, Peruvian universities, national and local authorities, and the Peruvian people. It consists of three parts:

  • Establishment of management plans and water-monitoring in the region concerned, and establishment of a warning system
  • Training Peruvian specialists in glaciology
  • General capacity building and support for coordination between stakeholders - public and private - affected by the consequences of melting glaciers

The development of water management plans must bring together an overview of the population’s water needs (for both consumption and irrigation), the risks of existing natural disasters, as well as the potential for generating hydropower from melting glaciers.

Reinforcing national capacity

To do this, the project supported by the SDC focuses on building national expertise. Academically, it works to develop a curriculum for postgraduate training in glaciology in Peru, in close collaboration with specialists from the University of Zurich. In 2011, Peru had only two experts in the field of glaciology.

At the same time, rural people are not forgotten. Involvement of residents and local authorities in the planning and adaptation to climate change is crucial. Within the project, the needs and concerns of grassroots communities are relayed by citizen committees and schools.

The project encourages inhabitants to participate in the process of planning and adapting to climate change. © CARE PERU

Alongside the poorest

The “Glaciares 513” project is primarily intended to reduce the vulnerability of people living in the Andean highlands. In addition to causing natural disasters, glacier retreat is transforming everyday life, as high mountain ecosystems (forests, bogs, and meadows) undergo change. Small farmers are forced to leave their villages. Downstream, people in the coastal areas of Peru are also adversely affected by melting ice as their water supplies dwindle.

Hence, the importance of documenting the effects of global warming in order to meet its challenges. The Carhuaz municipality has adopted a flood alert system that allows it to decide in real time whether to evacuate threatened villages. In the highlands, water reservoirs have been built to channel and exploit possible flooding. The problems and damage caused by retreating glaciers can be mitigated, if the phenomenon is anticipated.

Additional information