Peru Climate Change: Impact on Glacial Melt & Access to Water

Impact on Glacial Melt & Access to Water

More than 99% of the world’s tropical glaciers are in South America and 71% of those are found in Peru. These glaciers are crucial to Peru’s water supply as they slowly release water into rivers which provide drinking water and water for agriculture, hydroelectricity and industry such as agro-exports and mining.

The Stern Review states “Melting glaciers will initially increase flood risk and then strongly reduce water supplies, eventually threatening one sixth of the world’s population, predominantly in the Indian sub-continent, parts of China and the Andes in South America”. Studies show that glaciers in Peru have irretrievably lost one third of their surface area since 1970. The now unavoidable melting of glaciers in Peru will severely reduce water supplies in a country that is already water poor; of Peru’s 8.9 million rural people 3.3 million have no access to drinking water.

In rural areas agriculture will suffer greatly from water shortages. This will hit the rural poor who rely on small scale farming for their subsistence and also threaten local and international export markets. The urban poor will be equally ill-affected. According to UNDP research the poorest in urban areas receive the least water and pay the highest price for it; a reduced water supply will exacerbate this situation.

Furthermore, 70% of Peru’s energy is hydroelectric, energy supplies will be badly affected by an erratic and dwindling water supply. This is greatly detrimental to development and a 2006 World Bank study estimates reduced glacial melt will cost Peru’s energy sector between £30 and £374 million.

Lima has a large and ever increasing water deficit. One third of Peru’s population inhabit Lima, living in what is essentially a desert with little rainfall and therefore heavily reliant on water from glacial melt. SEDAPAL, the municipal water company, confirms that there are water shortages now and this will only become greater with increasing demand as Lima’s population grows.