Living with glaciers, adapting to change the experience of the Illimani project in Bolivia

J. C. Alurralde, E. Ramirez, M. García, P. Pacheco, D. Salazar, R.S. Mamani
Proyecto Illimani, UMSA – AGUA SUSTENTABLE, Bolivia


Glaciers retreat’s rate and its impact on rural livelihoods in the tropical Andes were studied and modeled. Tropical glaciers are more affected by climate change than their temperate counterparts due to larger sun exposure and the coincidence of the rainy season with the summer which reduces snow accumulation.

Global warming is occurring faster at high altitudes, causing glaciers’ shrinking and affecting downstream communities’ livelihoods where glaciers, important natural water regulators, are the only domestic and productive water source during dry seasons. Changing crop patterns and upward expanding of productive areas are also effects of the climate change.

The project studies the Illimani dependent area in a physical and socio-productive context to evaluate its vulnerability to climate change and climate variability, and the already taken autonomous adaptation strategies. Multidisciplinary results are integrated in watershed management models to develop technically and socially validated descriptions of the dynamics between the glacier and the basin, for actual and future scenarios, resulting in proposals for adaptation actions. The findings reveal that climate is not the only triggering factor for autonomous adaptation and the strong heterogeneity of adaptation requirements in mountainous areas even within small basins and the need for dynamic research-action oriented programs for which the vulnerability evaluation is essential.

Keywords: tropical glaciers, water rights, climate change, vulnerability, adaptation

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