The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, warned in late May that Peru’s monitoring system for its glaciers could be extremely detrimental.
“We have spoken with Peruvian government institutions, and there is no sufficient monitoring system to tell us the current trend in glacier shrinkage, and its consequences,” said Anil Mishra, a UNESCO specialist in hydrological systems, during the seminar Impact of Glacier Retreat in the Andes: International Multidisciplinary Network for Adaptation Strategies, held in Lima.
Peru is home to the largest chain of tropical glaciers in the world and these icy peaks provide water to millions of people. They feed rivers in dry seasons, which is key for the thousands of indigenous farming communities who live in the highlands.
Over the last 35 years, Peru has lost 22 percent of its glaciers to melting, according to a World Bank study in 2009.
“The scientific community and governments have got to understand what the consequences will be for river systems when the glaciers no longer exist,” Mishra warned.
“Glaciers are key indicators and unique demonstrations of global warming and climate change,” said UNESCO. In the longer term, however, “glaciers are expected to disappear as an additional source of water, albeit very slowly.”
The UN agency said its International Hydrological Program and Man and the Biosphere Program are working with Andean governments to establish an international network for research and policy needs to preserve glaciers.
“Glaciers play an important role in freshwater regulation in associated watersheds, ensuring year-round water flows for agriculture, potable water, power generation, and the stability of mountain biomes,” it said. “The changes induced by tropical glacier retreat constitute an early case of the need for adaptation and therefore an example of the type and size of associated economic and social impacts caused by climate change.”