BY: ZAK BENNETT
The lifeblood of Peru is evaporating before its people’s eyes. More than 77 million people get their drinking water and irrigation from the rivers fed by glacier runoff from the snow capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.
Very few people realize that Peru is home to 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. What even less realize is that 40% of the Cordillera Blanca has disappeared since 1970.
Drop after drop, the evaporating glaciers have reduced the water flow to Peru’s coastal regions by 12%, home to over 60% of the countries population. Lima is Peru’s second largest desert city and its agriculture is almost totally dependent on irrigation from the Andean rivers from the Cordillera Central. The same rivers also support the nation’s largest hydroelectric plants, which account for nearly half of the electricity generated in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
If warming trends continue, the Andes Tropical Glaciers could totally disappear in as little as 20 years. So what will become of the people’s water supply?
In this part of the world global warming is no longer dismissed as some abstract political issue, it is a matter of food for children and keeping lights on in city libraries.
Photographer Zachary Bennett documented his recent ascent of the Cordillera Blanca meeting many of the weary faces from Huancayo, a community that relies on the vanishing Huaytapallana glacier for survival.
“Upon visiting, the glacier constantly produces loud eruptions and crackling noises. You can literally hear the fresh water gradually disappearing. If you listen closely you can hear the glacier dying,“ says Bennett.
The families in the area face frequent tsunami warnings as a result of massive avalanches caused by melting chunks of ice barraging their lagoons. Climate change is likely to be a lead cause of salinization and desertification of their agricultural lands. In school they educate their children on climate change and how to prepare for disaster.
“Because of this, ironically, the impoverished people of the Andes, with little education, have a better understanding of global warming than the highly educated societies who are creating the problem,” says Bennett.