Glaciares+: Risk Management and the Productive Use of Water from Glaciers in the Andes of Peru

High-mountain environments with snow and ice are particularly sensitive to climatic change. Rapid glacier retreat with formation of new lakes, degradation of permafrost with large destabilized mountain slopes and critical changes in hydrological regimes and water supply are key challenges for local high-mountain communities and adjacent lowland regions.

The glaciated mountain ranges of the Peruvian Andes are especially vulnerable to, and affected by impacts from climate change. Local communities and cities often exist directly within the reach of major hazard potentials such as lake outburst floods, mud/debris flows or large rock/ice avalanches; and hydropower production, often influenced by runoff from glaciers, is an important energy source, and provides water for agricultural production.

People and institutions of the Cordilleras in Peru – particularly in the Cordillera Blanca - have long-standing experience with living and adapting to changing environmental conditions. As early as in the 1940s, for instance, risk reduction measures were undertaken at unstable glacier lakes. However, current changes are rapidly evolving beyond historical experience and pose increasingly large challenges to local communities and institutions. The responsible institutions at local, regional and national levels therefore urgently demand for knowledge exchange, international cooperation and support to develop the capacities to adequately respond to corresponding current and future challenges.

From 2011 to 2015, in a first phase of the project, an Early Warning System (EWS) for outbursts of a glacier lake has been designed and installed in the city of Carhuaz, Ancash Region; and an integrative risk management strategy has been planned and implemented for Santa Teresa, Cusco Region. Besides these local activities, various efforts have been undertaken for capacity building and knowledge exchange, including postgraduate courses in collaboration with Peruvian Universities, specific short courses in Peru, and research stays of Peruvian scientists and professionals in Switzerland.

Based on the success and lessons learnt from the first phase, a second phase of the project has been conducted from 2015 to 2018. Efforts on risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the intervention zones of Ancash and Cusco and since this second phase also the Cañete basin in the region of Lima, were continued and an additional focus has been drawn on opportunities provided by glacier shrinkage and lake formation for energy production, domestic supply, agriculture and tourism. Besides the continuation of capacity building activities and efforts for strengthening public institutions, collaborations with the private sector, namely regarding hydropower production, are sought. With water and related integrated management approaches becoming a key issue in this phase, special attention has been brought to the topic of multi-purpose projects (MPP) for sustainable use of water resources in mountain areas.

In an extension phase of the project, lasting from September 2018 to August 2019, the topic of MPP is further promoted. One focus is put on the regional and national level in Peru by studying the potential for the implementation of MPPs in collaboration with a parastatal hydropower company and different involved ministries, as well as by incidence activities with the new regional and local governments, taking charge in 2019. In parallel, the topic will be brought to a multi-national, Andean level, by promoting the concept of MPP in other Latin American countries. Besides this, the project is providing punctual support to the national government in the context of the elaboration of Peru’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) towards the UNFCCC for further progress in emission reductions and adaptation to impacts of climate change.

The project consists of a Peruvian part, coordinated by the NGO CARE Peru, and including local, regional and national authorities, and of a Swiss part (Swiss consortium ECS) led by the University of Zurich, and including Créalp, Meteodat GmbH, and EPFL. The expertise of the Swiss consortium is complemented by a pool of international experts in fields related to the project activities, which take over specific tasks according to the needs of the project. Both parts, the Swiss consortium and CARE, strictly collaborate in accordance with a master activity plan to efficiently achieve and disseminate the main objectives and results.