16.05.2019 -

Andean glaciers, a water source at risk

The event "The impact of the reduction of Andean glaciers in water resources and irrigation related to water" took place in Cuzco, Peru, on May 7, 2019. It was organized by Imperial College London and National University San Antonio Abad del Cusco, jointly with other local universities and the United Kingdom, in coordination with UNESCO's International Hydrological Program (IHP). The objective of the event was to deal with the case of glaciers in the Peruvian Andes and the vulnerability of local populations to climate change. In this way, it was sought to create a platform - within the framework of the Newton Paulet Fund - for scientists and decision makers to interact, for the creation of better regional policies.

The event was held within the framework of the cooperation between the IHP and the Newton-Paulet Fund (created in 2017) that supports the exchange of scientific research between Peruvian and British professionals, in order to generate innovative solutions for development in Peru, specifically regarding glacial melting and its impact on water resources. The meeting aimed to launch two research projects supported by the Fund: "Water security and adaptation to climate change in Peruvian watersheds fed by glaciers" (RAHU), and "Energy Production and Risk Prevention of water storage superficial in Peru "(Pegasus) that put focus on the basin of the Vilcanota-Urubamba river. These projects aim at modeling data on the processes related to Andean glaciers in the 2019-2021 period, and generating an international exchange and collaboration experience.

More specifically, the Pegasus project aims to assess the opportunities and threats presented by landscapes and natural resources for populations close to the Urubamba, Vilcabamba and Vilcanota glaciers. In turn, RAHU aims to generate data of better quality for the construction of new glacio-hydrological models, in such a way that strategies applicable to changes in water resources can be designed and implemented.

Glaciers are an important source of water for the Andean populations, and their accelerated reduction puts the lives of individuals at risk. Water is not only important for its consumption, but it is part of agriculture, industries, and ecosystem sustainability. The behavior of climate change and the variability of the seasons means that each year the effects on the populations are different. Perhaps in a warmer year floods are generated due to melting glaciers, and in another year there are not enough water resources for the correct development of the populations.

In particular, the event aimed to identify the specific products of the projects and implement strategies to adapt to climate change. Also, it was based on previous experiences of science-policy interaction in the region, and especially on previous achievements of the International Hydrology Program of UNESCO in the Andean region. It had the participation and organization of the IHP of UNESCO, the University of Engineering and Technology - UTEC, National University San Antonio Abad of Cusco - UNSAAC, Imperial College London, University of Leeds, National Service of Meteorology and Hydrology - SENAMHI, Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion - CONDESAN, University of Birmingham, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, and Care Peru.

As specific cases, the Vilcanota-Urubamba river basin and the Quelccaya glacier, the largest tropical ice layer on the planet, were treated. The concern about this ice sheet is that, because of climate change, it has been reduced by one third in the last 30 years. Although the effects on glaciers are known, the design and implementation of adapted policies is complex, and this requires the meeting of experts and a comprehensive level of research.

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