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High Mountain Glacier Watershed Program in Peru: sharing lessons on local adaptation plans to climate change
The Mountain Institute Peru
This paper presents the High Mountain Glacier Watershed Program (HMGWP) activities implemented by The Mountain Institute (TMI) in Peru and a short reference to parallel activities conducted in Nepal. The aim of this note is to assess the potential to share lessons across mountain ranges. The HMGWP in fact evolved as a knowledge exchange network focusing on the potential of south-south learning concerning the implications of rapid recession of glaciers and the growing threats of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) in the Andes and Himalayan regions. I will briefly present the process that originated the HMGWP as a knowledge exchange network, then move on to describe risk of GLOF adaptation strategies pursued in the Cordillera Blanca range, Peru, and then conclude with lessons and issues regarding the potential for the exchange of knowledge across mountain ranges.
Background of the HMGWP
The conference “Adapting to a world without glaciers: Realities, challenges, and actions” (July 7-15, 2009), convened by TMI in partnership with USAID, the National Science Foundation (NSF), Ministry of Environment (MINAM) and the National Council for Science and Technology (CONCYTEC) of Peru illustrates the initiative to promote dialogue between science, policy makers and practitioners that underlies the HMGWP. This meeting was also called with the explicit aim of fostering dialogue around emerging problems linked to the recession of glaciers in the Andes and Hindu-Kush Himalayan regions. The conference constructed and inter-disciplinary perspective on priority research topics on climate change, glacier recession, water supply, agriculture and biodiversity, identifying specific areas for cooperation between Andes and Himalayas. This conference was followed in September 3-28 of 2011 by the “Andean-Asian Mountains Global Knowledge Exchange”, which centered on glaciers, glacial lakes and hazard management problems (Byers 2012). This training and exchange meeting highlighted the potential to tap on Peruvian expertise gained over the last 40 years on engineering work to reduce risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). This south-south exchange resulted into valuable technical cooperation of Peruvian engineers, experts in glacial lake works to reduce the impact of GLOF that were able to influence designs for Imja Lake (Byers 2012). Equally important was that the exchange lead to the constitution of the High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program (HMGWP) to foster applied research and action in the Andes and Himalayas. This program is currently implemented with financial and technical support of USAID’s Climate Change Resilient Development (CCRD) Program.
HMGWP is implemented by TMI and University of Texas at Austin (UT) in (i) the Khumbu Valley of Nepal, Sagarmatha National Park trekking and climbing circuit, and (ii) the Quillcay Valley of Cordillera Blanca, Peru, also one of the most popular high-mountain tourism destinations of the world. In both sites the objective was to develop strategies to respond to the growing risk of GLOF: Imja Lake in the Khumbu valley of Nepal and Palcacocha lake in the Quillcay valley of Peru. In both cases the objective was to design climate change adaptation strategies through consultation with communities.
Nepal and Peru, two high mountain countries have significantly different political, economic and social contexts, yet face similar challenges associated with risk of GLOFs. For instance, in both cases, glacier experts had limited experience connecting scientific research to local communities, decision makers, the public, and to local development goals. Similarly on both sites, there were other similar issues linking glacier recession, risk of GLOF, the economy of the trekking and climbing tourist industry, the overall impacts on water supply, and the need to rapidly find adaptations to these threats. Thus, the ultimate purpose of running parallel actions in Nepal and Peru was to add value to research and action through the exchange of learning between these two locations and beyond through the construction of a Community of Practice concerning these challenges. Following a year of field work, a third gathering in Huaraz “Glacial Flooding and Disaster Risk Management: Knowledge Exchange and Field Training” (July 11-24, 2013) provided the opportunity to share the experience gained by HMGW program on the ground in Nepal and Peru with other Andean and Hindu-Kush Himalayan locations.
The Quillcay valley in Cordillera Blanca, Ancash Region, Peru
Located above the city of Huaraz (over 120,000 inhabitants), the territory of the watershed (250 km2) comprises 14 rural settlements in the valley. Quillcay is (i) the main and only source of potable water for the city; (ii) trekking destination for international tourists and therefore key part of the economy of Huaraz city; (iii) supplier of food for the city, and (iv) provider of construction labor and other service work. The valley is not only a provider of valuable services for the city but also harbinger of potential massive destruction. In fact, Palcacocha, a glacial lake located in this valley, flooded in 1941 releasing between 10 to 23 million cubic meters of materials into the city as a result of which around 5,000 people (mostly city inhabitants) were killed and infrastructures in the city and valley destroyed. The volume of Palcacocha lake has grown approximately 38 times since the last time that GLOF defenses were completed in the 1970s. The response of Huaraz city residents to the threat of A GLOF is to demand the construction of infrastructures to lower the level of the lake and thus reduce the chances of an avalanche. As we will see below, the perspective of rural communities is different, demonstrating the importance to frame GLOF reduction strategies within the broader framework of climate resilient development objectives.
The rural economy of the population in the valley is affected by increased variability in climate and displacement of seasonal rainfall patterns resulting in growing uncertainty in agricultural production. In response to climate stress, men are migrating more often to search for jobs in the city of Huaraz as well as other nearby cities, while women tend to stay assuming larger roles in farming and animal care. Production systems are also adapting: the cropping area has been reduced while production of garden products like medicinal plants is expanding. Another major response of rural families to these climate tensions is to develop projects to improve the supply of water for irrigation and human consumption. Houses in the upper valley are located mostly outside the path of a potential flood. The result of a field survey of rural (n= xxx) and Huraz city (n=xx) areas as well as numerous focal groups and interviews with key informants demonstrated showd us the existence of contrasting perspectives between city and rural villages concerning glacial lake control to reduce risk of GLOF. While the perspective of people living in the city was based on perceptions of high mountains as threats that had to be controlled by the state through engineering works to reduce the lake, the perspective of residents in the upland sections of the valley was that the priority was to secure water for their crops and their development objectives.
Adaptation strategies to glacier recession in the Quillcay watershed
As a result of this exploratory consultation with stakeholders in rural and urban areas, TMI designed a broader adaptation process to link risk of GLOF to local development goals. This process included the following components:
Although the process is still on-going, the main result of community consultation and embedding actions in both indigenous and government institutions has been to shift a GLOF reduction intervention—a threat potentially associated with social conflict between city and rural hinterland—into a broader action linked to the local development process in a way that opens options for effective climate change adaptation.