Friday, February 3, 2023

Worst recent drought causes lagoon to disappear in Peruvian Andes

CCONCHACCOTA, Peru ( Associated Press) — Standing outside her home in southern Peru’s Andean sun, Wilma Huamani watches with concern as the tiny Cconchaccota lagoon, the center of her community’s life, has dried up into a field of cracked earth and surrounded by yellow. grass.

Huamani, a 38-year-old mother of four, recalled that trout lived in the lagoon, children swam, Andean flamingos flew over the mountains and sheep drank from its banks. Everything has disappeared.

“It has completely dried up,” said Huamani, who indicated that the rainy season has not arrived despite the fact that it used to start in September. Potatoes, the only crop growing in his village at an altitude of 4,100 metres, have been delayed, so its residents fear there could be food shortages in the coming months. These days the inhabitants of Cconchaccota feed themselves from the reserves of tubers they had that were dehydrated using a technique from the time of the Incas to survive during famine.

Experts confirm that the Andes of southeastern Peru are experiencing their driest period in nearly half a century. According to official data accessed by The Associated Press, October 2022 is expected to have the same rainfall deficit as the same month in 1976. (fighter).

According to the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) – used internationally to define drought over a range of time scales – in October the region received a value of -2, which is classified as “extremely dry”. considered as eligible.

The lack of rain affects more than 3,000 communities in Peru’s central and southern Andes.

Cconchaccota does not have drinking water, sewage, or telephone service, despite the fact that the region to which it belongs has received $50.4 million so far this year to exploit a nearby copper mine, the ninth largest in the world. The biggest one is called Bambas. Requests for help from the authorities, for more than two months, have not yielded any response.

So a young local farmer, Grisaldo Chalanca, used his cell phone to record, edit, and produce a video report about the drought, which he later posted on a Facebook page. Chelanka recalled that he had to climb to an altitude of 4,500 meters to get an internet connection.

Rural radio stations and a national television station in the Andes paid little attention to the drought. The late response from regional authorities came only last week with the delivery of packages of oats as fodder for live sheep, cattle and camels.

On a recent visit to the community, the Associated Press saw dead sheep on the mesa with sparse pale hay and lambs that were so weak they could barely stand. John Franklin Chalanka, a 12-year-old shepherd, said his family had 50 dead sheep. “Beasts are pure bone,” he said of those still alive.

It rained lightly last week, for the second time in about eight months, and all members of the community took out their bowls to collect water. But the drops raised dust as they hit the ground, and by the next morning the strong Andean sun had evaporated little moisture from the soil.

Neighbors drink water for their consumption from a spring that sometimes dries up in a nearby area called Almachayoxpata, where the local cemetery is.

The lack of water has always bothered Wilma Huamani, who fled COVID-19 to Conchacota with her family in 2020 from Lima – the world’s second largest city in the middle of a desert after Cairo. In the capital, he lived on a hill without access to drinking water, paid on average six times more than a house connected to the distribution network, and his daily consumption did not even reach the minimum recommendation of 100 litres. World Food Organization Health.

Humani said, “Day after day I ask, I hope it rains… When it rains, grass, potatoes grow.” Her husband, absent, found a job in artisanal copper mining, which emerged in the Andes due to the high price of the red metal, of which Peru is the world’s second largest producer.

According to the United Nations Meteorological Agency, the lack of rain in part of the Andes is related to the La Nina phenomenon, which will hit the region for the third year in a row in 2022. Drought has also been felt in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. Of the latter, there are 22 million hectares with “severe drought” and according to its officials its main agricultural sector is the most affected.

Farmers in the Andes pray for rain in various regions of Peru and Bolivia. Prayers are held on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which is shared by both countries, or on hills that are revered by the indigenous inhabitants. During the farmers dance in Cuzco’s main square on Sundays in honor of the most famous local shrine—the Señor de Coylur Riti, or Snow Star—they also pray for rain.

“We are asking God’s mercy for the rain … to forgive us some sins,” said Francisco Huaman, a farmer and flautist from Carpapanpa village in Paucartambo province.

In Conchacota’s only evangelical church, Rossi Chalanka remarked that the drought was a punishment “for the sins of man” and a clear sign of the end of the world that was soon to come with plagues, wars and famines.

But for experts the lagoon could have dried up because it was less than a meter deep, depended exclusively on rainwater and is subject to strong solar radiation with large losses of water due to evaporation.

Wilson Suarez, professor of mountain hydrology and glaciology at the La Molina National Agrarian University in Peru, indicated that all these characteristics create “an ideal cocktail” for the drying of small lagoons in high Andean regions. “With a depth of half a meter, it will always be subject to radiation, with large losses through evaporation,” he said.

Suarez, who is also a Cenamahí researcher and a scholar of the southern Andes, stressed that the loss of the lagoon has an “economic impact” on the community’s farmers, whose mirror of water for years guaranteed their livestock’s hydration.

“It should give them an idea that times are changing,” Suarez said. “Dealing with drought is not easy… The climate is changing,” he said.

Nation World News Desk
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