Living in the Cordillera Blancas of the Andes mountains means spending weekends climbing towering mountains, visiting crystal blue lakes, and exploring the most magical glaciers you could ever imagine. Right outside my bedroom window, I get a view of the snowcapped peaks of Comchas Mountain, which reflect pink rays off the glowing white snow as the sun tucks behind the mountain range at the end of each day. Not bad, right?
Recently, I was looking through photos of Chacas that decorate the wall of a local menú restaurant and I noticed that Comchas looked different. Where there is now a dip in the curvature of the mountain, there was once a peak. When I asked what happened, the answer I was given was a shrug of the shoulders and “cambio climático.”
The Cordillera Blancas is home to 722 individual glaciers, and since the 1970s there has been a 15% retreat in the glaciers due to climate change. One of the biggest tourist attractions of Ancash is a glacier known as Pastoruri. Pastoruri Glacier is a Natural World Heritage site that sits at 5,201 meters or over 17,000 feet. The hike to Pastoruri is known as the “Route of Climate Change” because it is said that in 5 years, Pastoruri will no longer be a site that tourists can come enjoy. In less than 20 years (10 of which were the hottest on record), the glacier has shrunk in half.
So why does this matter? Well, I’m a Community Economic Development volunteer, so the economy of Ancash was the first to cross my mind. In 1990, Pastoruri had 100,000 visitors and last year it had 34,000 visitors. Each tour is about S/40, so that is a S/2.6 million drop in 25 years. If in the next 5 years, tourism is expected to drop to 0, that is another S/1.4 million loss in Ancash’s economy.
But, honestly, that seems to be the least of the worries in my rural site. The main problem that is putting life in jeopardy is the displacement of our rainy season. I hear daily, “La lluvia es la vida.” Without rain, we do not have life in the sierras of Ancash. We are now supposed to be in our rainy season in Ancash, however we are experiencing draught and unusually high heat. This is causing extreme anxiety in my town as crops are simply not growing. Agriculture is the number 1 economy in Chacas, and there is no rain to grow our plants. Climate change typically creates more rainfall, but it changes the pattern of rainfall so that places that typically get a lot of rain, no longer have the consistency they are accustomed to, which in our case, can desperately impact our economy.
I do not see this problem of climate change as a political problem, but truly an ethical problem. Perú’s glaciers make up 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers and they are also the key to regulating temperatures in Perú. Additionally, they are the main source of fresh water to the majority of the population of Perú. By 2030, it is predicted that 37% of Perú’s glaciers will be gone.
We can all help make a change to slow down and reverse the change in our climate. Yes, it would be great to have politics on our side with this, but there are also tons of ways we can help!
For more information, I recommend this informative article: http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnadz350.pdf