October 11, 2003

Melting glaciers threaten Peru

Several more US soldiers have died in Iraq over the
last three days. For what? Meanwhile, here is another
story highlighting one of the _resident's most
aggregious abdication's of moral leadership: pulling
out of the Kyoto accords, which of course highlighting
Ralph Nada's great, and unforgivable lie (i.e, that
there would be no different between Bush and Gore)...

BBC: "Thousands of people in the Andes mountains of Peru are having their lives affected in both a practical and cultural way by climate change, which is causing the region's glaciers to melt..."In a few years' time we might not have any ice. I don't know where the Andean people will be able to go for their rituals."


Melting glaciers threaten Peru

Thousands of people in the Andes mountains of Peru are
having their lives affected in both a practical and
cultural way by climate change, which is causing the
region's glaciers to melt.

The Andes glaciers are disappearing fast
This is already having a major impact of some aspects
of life for the people who live in the mountains - and
the government of the country is worried that the
situation could get much worse.

In the last three decades, Peruvian glaciers have lost
almost a quarter of their area.

"This is an indicator which gave us some concern on
how the future was going to be on these tropical
glaciers," Patricia Iturregui, head of the Climate
Change Unit of Peru's National Council for the
Environment, told BBC World Service's One Planet

"All our estimations on the basis of this data are
that in the next 10 years the top tropical glaciers of
Peru - and eventually other Andean countries - above
5,500 metres will disappear if climate conditions
remain as the last 10 years."

Nasa fears

The most immediate threat is coming from the change to
water supplies in the area.

During the dry season, river water comes exclusively
from the glaciers, which melt naturally at that time
of year. They then replenish themselves in the wet

But this balance has been upset - the glaciers are
melting faster than they can replenish themselves.

Nasa says its satellites have detected a crack in the
glacier near Lake Palcacocha
As they thaw, dozens of new lakes have spread all over
the highland.

A recent report by US space agency Nasa suggested that
a large chunk of ice in the area could break off and
fall into one of these lakes, triggering a devastating

Satellites had detected a crack in the glacier
overlooking Lake Palcacocha.

One city under threat would be Huaraz, with a
population of 100,000. The news from Nasa came as a
very worrying shock to many in the city.

"We were all very worried in my family - we packed
suitcases with clothes and blankets," Joana, one of
the citizens of Huaraz, told One Planet.

"We warned our relatives to be prepared."

Risk assessment

Some scientists dispute Nasa's claims. Mario Giva, of
the Peruvian National Institute for Natural Resources,
said that it was "necessary for some work in the field
to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of
any imminent danger".

Nevertheless, Nasa is currently in conversation with
the Peruvian Government over these findings, which is
drawing up plans to respond to the risks posed by the
melting glaciers.

"We need to make an important effort to plan disaster
management and prevention of risks in the future," Ms
Iturregui said.

"The most important measures to be taken are to
organise local communities and to organise an
institutional framework able to respond to these
adverse effects."

She added that an assessment of water resources
available in the future was currently under way.

"We are in the process of desertification," stressed
Ms Iturregui.

"The retreat of the glaciers is definitely going to
mean a shortfall in the water supply in years to

Tourism threat

Some in Huarez itself recall when, in 1941, a chunk of
ice did melt off - and destroyed around a third of the
city, killing between 5,000 and 7,000 people.

The melting water is putting some of Peru's irrigation
system under strain
But the melting glaciers are also causing other

The deluge is proving too much for some of the canals
- some of which are many years old - that supply the
farms and mills in the central region.

Conversely, the fact that the glaciers are not
replenishing themselves is also a potential threat to
life in the region, as in the dry season they are the
sole source of fresh water.

And there are further impacts on the lives of people
in the mountains.

"Now, glaciers are sliding over the bedrock," said
glacier expert Cecil Portocarrero.

"This is causing problems - not only for water
resources but also for tourism, for climbers."

'Healing water' banned

Meanwhile some ancient spiritual traditions are also
under threat.

Every year thousands of people from across the Andes
flock to the Sinakara glacial mountain to attend the
Qoyllur Rit'i religious festival.

Catholic tradition believes that the Christ child
appeared in 1870 to a shepherd boy named Marianito
Mayta. Ever since, pilgrims have believed that Christ
lives in the rock.

Villages in Peru have only the glaciers for fresh
And for the Incas - and other civilisations that
preceded them - mountains were gods to be honoured, as
they supplied water and controlled the weather.

Many people come down from the glacier with pieces of
ice, as they believe the ice can cure them of illness.

"They think it acts like a medicine - like a sacred
water," explained mountain guide Feri Coba.

"Perhaps at home someone is not feeling well. They
will drink it and they will be cured."

Ritual ending

This year, because of concerns about melting, the
Pablitos - the guardians of the Qoyllur Rit'i ceremony
- have stopped the ice being taken away.

"We decided to eliminate this part of a ritual because
we are concerned about the glacier," explained one
Pablito. "We have taken this decision to protect the

The decision has upset many pilgrims.

"The glaciers were bigger - when I first came here
this particular one reached around 200 metres down,"
one said.

"In a few years' time we might not have any ice. I
don't know where the Andean people will be able to go
for their rituals."

Posted by richard at October 11, 2003 04:11 PM