Water in Movement – University of Copenhagen

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Water in Movement: High Andean Resilience in an Era of Global Climate Change

By virtue of its verticality and rapidly shifting eco-zones, mountain regions are vulnerable to climate change. The tropical part of the Andes mountain range have experienced glacier retreat since the end of the little ice age of the 19th century, but during the last decades the loss of glacier mass have been increasingly dramatic with the disappearances of the Cotacachi glacier in Ecuador and the near disappearance of Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia as the most well-known. This study is placed in north-central Peru in the Callejón de Huaylas, a narrow valley at 3400 m.a.s.l. in between the lower and dryer Cordillera Negra to the west, and the high, snow peaked Cordillera Blanca to the east. Observers from the latter have continuously been reporting of alarming and accelerating glacier melt, and as the ice continues to retreat further up the Andean slopes, increased pressure is put upon the local communities.

The Andes is a hot spot for climate change, as it combines poverty, population density, glacier reliance and retreating glaciers. Both the Andean highland and the arid Pacific coast are highly dependent on the glaciers, which serves as a water reservoir supplying this dry mountain range with water even in the dry season. As climate change alters not only temperature, but also seasonality, precipitation patterns and wind conditions, the communities are likely to experience both periods of drought and periods of flooding. The highland peasant communities are among those to be hit first by the changing hydrological cycle, and the fundamental question of this project is how the Quechua comuneros manage and control the flow of the water within the community, and how they negotiate rights and ownership towards other communities, the mining companies of the area, and ultimately the state. This project will aim at conceptualising the entanglement of global climate change and the local level organization of the water, both seen as a resource and as a symbol, by exploring the multiple uses along the watershed and thus scrutinizing social conflicts erupting around themes of access to and control of this vital natural resource.

Mattias Borg Rasmussen