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The Post-Glacier Andes

Global warming-induced glacial melt is expected to eventually threaten the water supply of 80 million people in the Andes. I talked to some young people in Cuzco who are going to be around to see this happen:

Across the Andes, people are preparing for the coming increase in scarcity. Mira-Salama’s World Bank project used a three-pronged approach to climate change adaptation.

First, knowledge generation: creating climate models and trying to predict the impact of glacier retreat on important crops. They also installed high-altitude ready weather monitoring equipment in the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. And finally, the Bank tried to help with “on the ground adaptation” in select Andean communities.

“We’re working with farmers [in the Santa Teresa region of Cuzco] in showcasing better irrigation practices that are more water efficient, working with them in organizing them in water associations so that they can irrigate with pre-defined schedules, working with them in finding more climate-resilient crop varieties […] and also increasing the diversity of their crops,” Mira-Salama said.

Not all communities will have World Bank help facing glacier retreat, though. As future leaders, AYP students will have to build a viable future for their communities in a glacier-parched world.

“We need to start now to make people aware of what’s going to happen, that there’s not going to be water,” Karina Jimenez Suma of Ollantaytambo said.

One idea: plant more Queyña and Chachacoma trees, which are native to the area and do not rely heavily on water.

“We can have a campaign to plant more trees in our communities, avoid wasting water, and do more sprinkle irrigation. You see very little of that [in Ollantaytambo], only a few people know about it. I think sprinkle irrigation is one of the things that can help not use much water,” Jimenez said.

Some possible solutions are more outlandish. One Chilean geologist is exploring strategies to artificially reduce glacier melting or even create new human-made glaciers.

More, including climate changes already underway, how to help from the United States, and the first completely melted glacier, at Generation Progress.

02/26/2014 // Morning Hike // Pampallacta, Peru

pampallacta

At the Potato Park, about 14,000 feet up. Went on a walk to get a cell phone signal. The rock piles mark the border between the village of Pampallacta and nearby Chawaytire.

 

02/14/2014 // Qachun Waqachi Raymi // Chawaytire, Peru

qachun waqachi

The Potato Park is using Valentine’s Day to revive and adapt an Andean tradition. Young men demonstrate their value as potential husbands by preparing a potential field for sowing, and young women show their ability and tenderness as wives by deftly peeling a really bulbous and bumpy potato. Elders in the community judge each contest.

01/17/2014 // Pedestrian // Patacancha, Peru

pedestrian

A story behind this one. Driving through the high Andes in the middle of nowhere, well above 4000m. Out the window is nothing but lush green mountaintops, grazing sheep and llamas, and rolling mists that occasionally block the view of everything else. Like something out of Lord of the Rings.

I tried to take a picture of the mist, in the foolish belief that it would appear as more than just white emptiness on a camera. It was only after I looked at the picture on my computer that I saw I had caught this woman, just chillin’, as we zipped by. This was an hour drive out from Patacancha, a tiny mountain community an hour drive out from Ollantaytambo, a touristy village which is two hours driving from metropolitan Cuzco, itself two miles above sea level in the Andes. The woman standing on the side of the mountain road, just minding her business, just as I would on an big city street corner, struck me as a reminder of how remote Andean lives are. (Depending on your frame of reference for “remote”…)

Heavy Loads

porters

The spectacles of the Inca Trail (pics here, here, here, and here) are made accessible by the contingent of porters that accompanies each trek group. Last month, the 16 of us tourists were accompanied by 22 men from nearby villages looking to make some extra cash. They carried tents, luggage, food and cooking supplies; they set up camp before we arrived each night and took it down after we left each morning; they cooked our food, served it, and washed our dishes.

The Peruvian government passed a law in 2001 legislating porter working conditions, a job that had gained notoriety for its vulnerability to exploitation. It’s widely believed that the law goes unenforced, though. For instance, porters aren’t allowed to be given more than 20kg each to carry, but many who my friends and I questioned on the Trail claimed that they were carrying 25 or 30kg. Porters also complain of inadequate meals and sleeping arrangements, and not getting paid the $62 per trip minimum wage established by the 2001 law.

Portering for foreigners dates back to the arrival of Spaniards in the Andes. From John Hemming’s The Conquest of the Incas:

From the outset of the Conquest, Spanish armies and expeditions had commandeered regiments of native porters, and it was manifest that this abuse contributed directly to the country’s depopulation. There were dozens of grandiose attempts to discover eldorados in the forests of the Amazon. Hundreds of Spanish lost their lives on these desperate adventures; but their native porters perished long before their European masters. ‘Some two or three hundred Spaniards go on these expeditions. They take two or three thousand Indians to serve them and carry their food and fodder, all of which is carried on the backs of the poor Indians …. Few or no Indians survive, because of lack of food, the immense hardships of the long journeys through wastelands, and from the loads themselves.’

Gustav and I have been researching the subject. More to come.