About 2,000 tourists are stranded in Peru after mudslides hit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. A Canberra man whose son is trapped by the Peruvian mudslides says the Australian consulate in Lima is proving difficult to contact. A West Australian tourist trapped in Peru says her group has been abandoned by their tour guide as stocks of fresh food and water in town dwindle. They say they were getting little or no assistance from the Australian Government.
Heavy rain triggered the slides and swept away roads, leaving the tourists stuck in Aguas Calientes, a small town near the Inca ruins.
Apart from hiking the Inca Trail, a stay in Aguas Calientes, is one of the best ways to get to Machu Picchu before all of the tourists arrive by train from Cusco.
Climate change impacts:
Peru has the most tropical glaciers in Latin America and has already lost 20 percent of the 2,600 kms of glaciers running through its central and southern Andes in the past 30 years, according to CONAM. (Peru's National Environment Council). If climatic conditions remain as they are, all the glaciers (in Peru) below 18,000 feet will disappear by around 2015, CONAM's President told Reuters in an interview.
Climatic warming during the last 100-150 years has resulted in a significant glacier ice loss from mountainous areas of the world. Changes in sediment and water supply induced by climatic warming and glacier retreat have altered channel and floodplain patterns of rivers draining high mountain ranges.
Temperature in the Andes has increased by approximately 0.1 °C per decade, with only two of the last 20 years being below the 1961–90 average. By the end of the 21st century, the tropical Andes may experience a massive warming on the order of 4.5–5 °C.
According to a study by Britain's East Anglia University, Peru is the country most at risk to global warming, after Honduras and Bangladesh, because of the proximity of its towns to glaciers and a lack of disaster prevention measures. The glaciers and lakes specifically are of principal interests to tourists. However, glacial retreat and systems for lake stabilization may be negatively influencing tourism.
Climate change could cost Andean countries US$30 billion per year by 2025, according to a study commissioned by the Andean Community of Nations and carried out by the Peruvian University of the Pacific. The figure represents 4.5 per cent of the countries' combined gross domestic product.
The study also predicts that 70 per cent of Andean people will have severe difficulties in accessing clean water sources by 2025. By 2020, about 40 million people will be at risk of losing their water supplies as well as some crops, due to the melting of the glaciers and greater desertification of the Andean mountains.
Because of this geographical mismatch between national water resources and the human population, Peru is estimated to be a “water-scarce” country by 2025 if population growth trends remain high. Peru is particularly vulnerable to climate change because some 70 percent its energy comes from hydroelectric plants, supplied mainly by meltwater from Andean glaciers.
A natural hazard in itself does not necessarily cause a disaster; a disaster results when a natural hazard impacts on a vulnerable, exposed or ill-prepared community. Destruction of mountain forests or inappropriate farming practices can accelerate erosion and expose land to the risk of landslides, floods and avalanches. Moreover, dams, roads or mining enterprises can be hazardous if not properly constructed and managed.
(Yungay showing the remains of the church spire and palm trees)
Yungay area tragedy, 1970:
In a major catastrophe in 1970, some 25,000 people were killed when a mudslide caused by melting ice submerged the town of Yungay in the central Andes. The reported death toll from what came to be known as Peru’s Great Earthquake totalled more than 74,000 people. On May 31, 1970, an undersea earthquake off the coast of Casma and Chimbote, north of Lima, triggered one of the most cataclysmic avalanches in recorded history – wiping out the entire highland town of Yungay and most of its 25,000 inhabitants. The 8.0 quake destabilized the glacier on the north face of Mount Huascarán, causing 10 million cubic meters of rock, ice and snow to break away and tear down its slope at more than 120 miles per hour.
It is the image of lone surviving palm trees in the Yungay cemetery that is burned into Peru’s memory. In Yungay, only some 350 people survived, including the few who were able to climb to the town’s elevated step-like cemetery. Among the survivors were 300 children, who had been taken to the circus at the local stadium, set on higher ground and on the outskirts of the town. To this day, a crushed intercity bus, four of the original palm trees that once crowned the city’s main plaza and remnants of the cathedral still stand. In 2000 the government declared May 31 “Natural Disaster Education and Reflection Day.”
(Mountain climbing in the Cordillera Blanca)
Cordillera Blanca's deadly avalanches
As mountains are often located in tectonically active zones, susceptibility to earthquakes is higher than in other areas. In the Andes, for example, as much as 88% of the mountainous area is susceptible to destructive earthquakes.
Cordillera Blanca glacier retreat since the late-19th century has triggered some of the world's most deadly avalanches and glacial lake outburst floods. Although a Peruvian glaciology and lakes security office has “controlled” 35 Cordillera Blanca glacial lakes, 30 glacier disasters have killed nearly 30,000 people in this region since 1941.
The accumulated precipitation values for November surpassed by 127% the average historic values and, in December, this value has reached 36%.
There are innumerable small to medium-size slope failures that cumulatively impose costs to society as great or greater than the large infrequent catastrophic landslides that draw so much attention. Damage to ecosystems has not generally been documented, but landslides may destroy habitats, for example by blocking streams and denuding slopes.
Lake Paron - looming danger:
Laguna Paron, Caraz, Peru
Currently, the Peruvian federal government has funded projects for the stabilization of 35 lakes that were considered to be the greatest threats to the populations inhabiting the valley below. The construction of tunnels prevents the increase in lake size above the tunnel outlet and dams are used to reinforce the existing, and potentially unstable, moraine walls
Lake Parón is a glacial lake in the Peruvian Andes, supporting a community of 15,000 people. The people in the area live with the looming danger that, as the glacier above the lake continues to melt, the lake will overflow its banks, flooding the area and possibly killing many in the community.
Duke Energy (a U.S. company) acquired the rights to control Lake Parón that provides water for hydroelectricity generation. The community decided to reclaim control of the lake, and in 2008 it did just that. The community has control of the area but they can't physically get inside the tunnel and change the water flow. Lake Paron is fed with water derived from several large glaciers, and is surrounded by large peaks. This lake - above Caraz, in the Northern part of the Cordillera - was once much visited, as it is 90 minutes of travel by car from Huaraz - a major town that serves as the jumping off point for those wishing to explore the region. However, the lake has now been dammed and tapped for hydroelectricity in order to support mining activities, and its has developed the characteristic and unsightly "high water mark" so characteristic of such reservoirs.
While Duke Energy has reaped solid economic rewards for its investment in Huaylas province, the Ancash Department maintains very high poverty levels despite its vast hydro and mineral resources.
The battle over the waters of Lake Parón, in the Northern Andes of Peru, came to a head during the late afternoon hours of July 29, 2008, when over 100 farmers from Huaylas province of the Department of Ancash took over the hydraulic operations of the Cañón del Pato Hydroelectic Center. The farmers were protesting the nearly 50% drop in Lake Parón's water levels following the center's release of the lake's water in order to enhance its power production capabilities.
The licensing of Lake Parón's waters for energy development in 1994 coincided with the enactment of structural reforms under the administration of then President Alberto Fujimori, who sought to attract foreign investment through privatization and pro-business economic policies.
The increase in the peasant population in the Andes area and the fact that, with global warming, it will become possible to cultivate, therefore irrigate, at ever higher altitudes, means that the resources required by traditional irrigation are set to grow and will increasingly be in competition with hydroelectric needs. Thus, even in the highest regions, there will be greater and more intense conflict between different users.
A mid-sized country with a large and highly biodiverse forest estate, Peru ranks within the top 10 countries worldwide in deforestation rates, emitting an estimated 127 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
In 1990, the total forest area in Latin America was 1,011 Mha, and it was reduced by 46.7 Mha in ten years (UNEP 2003a). The expansion of the agricultural frontier and livestock, selective logging, financing of big scale projects like construction of dams for energy generation, illegal crops, construction of roads and increased links to commercial markets have been the main causes of deforestation
Re-vegetation on such sites is a slow process, they may remain unprotected against erosion for decades or even centuries. As a result, slope failures, rockfall and debris flow will pose increasing threats to settlement and infrastructure.
Sanitation and poverty:
Peru’s per capita GDP has historically remained well below the regional and world averages. It is estimated that 18.1% of the population lives on less than one dollar a day, and 37.7% of the population lives on less than two dollars per day. Peru continues to suffer from incomplete coverage of water and sanitation infrastructure. Inadequate sanitation and water supplies was evidenced by the 1993 cholera outbreak that spread rapidly across Peru. If the national government does not promote the comprehensive management of water resources, then it is unlikely that regional departments will be able to single-handedly implement management regimes, especially in the context of limited funding.
Caring for Mother Earth:
The scientists of Western society have dismissed indigenous people as sentimental and superstitious and accused them of being an obstacle to development. Paradoxically, those that previously turned deaf ears to our warnings, now are dismayed because their own model of "development” endangers our Mother Earth.
Pervian helicopters are airlifting tourists from the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu where hundreds remained stranded by heavy rains and mudslides that claimed seven lives.