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 glacier, is an important energy source, and providing 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 this 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 is now conducted from 2015 to 2018. Efforts on risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the intervention zones of Ancash and Cusco and now also the Cañete basin just south of Lima, are continued and an additional focus is drawn on opportunities provided by glacier changes for energy production, tourism, and agriculture. Besides the continuation of capacity building activities and efforts for strengthening public institutions, collaborations with the private sector, namely regarding hydropower production, are sought.

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 the needs of the project. Both parts, the Swiss consortium and CARE, strictly collaborate in accordance with a master activity plan to efficiently achieve the main objectives.