Securing Mountain Water and Livelihoods

Securing Mountain Water and Livelihoods

Thanks to funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Instituto de Montaña (IdM) partnered with local communities, municipalities and universities in the Ancash Region of central Peru. Our Securing Mountain Water and Livelihoods project strengthened local mountain economies while helping communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. These remote communities have been dealing with a decrease in available water, an increased risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), changing precipitation patterns, increasing temperatures and other climate hazards. We helped them advance their plans for sustainable development and supported their innovative ways of adapting to climate change. The Instituto also helped them leverage public funds to implement these plans. IdM also partnered with local universities to increase their ability to provide training on climate change, and to conduct the applied research that is essential for developing solutions for local governments and communities in the Peruvian Andes. Our work with community and grassroots organizations continues to develop new livelihood options for mountain people.
  • Project Site

    Project Site

    Our project site was in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, Ancash, Peru. The Cordillera Blanca is the largest glacier-covered range of the world’s tropical regions. Glacier runoff from these mountains plays a key role in the Santa River basin, supplying fresh water to 1.2 million people downstream and along the coast. Because of its unique geologic, scenic and cultural values, the Cordillera Blanca was declared a National Park in 1972 and incorporated as a World Biosphere Reserve in 1977. The Huascarán Biosphere Reserve encompasses Huascarán National Park at its core (340,000 hectares), 54 campesino communities with land use rights inside the Park, and several large urban centers like the city of Huaraz (120,000 people).

    Our project focused on three Municipal Commonwealths: Rio Yanamayo on the eastern escarpment of the Cordillera, Waraq in the valley above Huaraz in the western escarpment, and Tres Cuencas on the open range grasslands at the headwaters of the Santa, Pativilca and Fortaleza rivers. This highland area of Ancash encompasses a total population of 550,000 people.
  • Challenges


    In the Santa River watershed, climate change is affecting the amount and quality of water used by highland communities and cities in dramatic ways. The Cordillera Blanca, with 755 glaciers, lost 27% of its glacier area between 1970 and 2013 due to glacial melt. A study of 9 glacier valleys in Cordillera Blanca found that 7 had already reached the “peak water” point. This means that valleys with smaller glacier areas in the Cordillera now have less water for farming or drinking during the dry season. The melting of ice-covered mountains has also exposed mineral-rich rocks to the elements for the first time in thousands of years. With every rainfall, trace metals and minerals wash into streams and rivers. This poses a threat to human and animal health, affecting irrigation and potable water systems.

    Highland communities respond to these challenges in many ways: they migrate away from their mountain homes, reduce their dependency on farming, increase livestock production, intensify grassland use, and build irrigation systems, to name a few. Although some responses might work well in the short-term, sustainable adaptations to climate change require detailed information about mountain systems, government policies and investments and rely on mountain people actively participating in the design of local adaptation measures. After all, human livelihoods are only as secure as the natural resources they are based on.
  • Our Approach

    Our Approach

    The overall purpose of this project: to improve the capacity of people in the Huascarán Biosphere Reserve territory to conserve ecosystems and contribute to human wellbeing in the context of climate change. The specific purpose is reflected in the project’s name: Securing Mountain Waters and Livelihoods. This long-term goal required technical support from our project to improve the capacities, skills, tools and cooperation among a diverse group of stakeholders in the Reserve.

    We focused on creating sustainable synergies and partnerships between 3 sectors: the academic institutions that produce the climate, ecosystem and economic information that is used to successfully respond to climate change, the regional and local governments that mobilize public investment for climate change adaptation and mountain communities who manage natural resources and water systems, putting local actions into place that reduce climate change risks.

    To create these synergies and partnerships, we relied upon our Institute’s signature approach. Our inclusive method empowers stakeholders, spurs entrepreneurship, and trains communities to use their own local, traditional knowledge in dialogues with scientists. A key component to our approach is empowering women to have a key role in local government.
  • Solutions


    Our aim was to secure the long-term resilience of water and livelihoods in remote mountain communities. The confluence of community empowerment, improved information to support decisions, and increased and more effective public funding has led to greater resilience overall. A few examples of effective solution put into place are below with links to more details.

    Community Participatory Planning, Research and Action Campesino communities are the principal users of natural resources that are impacted by climate change in the Andes. Climate change greatly affects the highland systems that regulate water (glaciers, lakes, wetlands and grasslands), a resource that is essential both to the livelihoods of rural communities and to the entire watershed. A clear understanding of the context of mountain communities and their livelihood priorities is central to identifying solutions that reduce risks related to climate impacts. Supporting local innovation and entrepreneurship is also key.

    Young Mountain Scientists: a hidden resource The drain of young people away from mountain communities is constant. Some leave their villages to find new livelihoods in urban centers, some embark in university studies that often help them leave their communities of origin for good. Securing Mountain Water and Livelihoods developed a program to give graduating students in the Ancash public university–UNASAM–the possibility to direct their research back to mountain communities.

    Municipal Commonwealths: Connecting rural communities to local governments While a national and regional policy framework in support of climate change adaptation is necessary, it is not sufficient to trigger effective, local, adaptation actions. Often, there are no ‘bridges’ connecting remote mountain communities to local or provincial governments that have ways of dedicating public money to implement national or regional policies. Municipal Commonwealths are a new type of governmental entity that favors cooperation among districts or provinces to achieve shared objectives. Our project collaborated with 3 commonwealths in Ancash on water security solutions.
  • Results


    Mountain communities took climate change adaptation into their own hands.

    Our project trained 21 graduating seniors from The Santiago Antunez de Mayolo National University of Ancash (UNASAM) in environmental sciences, economy and agronomy. These students’ research produced crucial information for local governments, and it was used to design public investment projects for irrigation and ecosystem restoration. With technical assistance from Instituto de Montaña, students and faculty developed new smart phone apps to assess water quality and access climate data and forecasting. Information produced by this local, mountain university now supports public investments on water security in Peru.

    The Ancash Region developed its Regional Environmental Information System (SIAR) using data generated through UNASAM university. Our project data plus this info from UNASAM was compiled into GIS Atlases for the three Municipal Commonwealths supported by our project. These atlases provide an integrated perspective on climate, ecosystems, natural resources and local economic development. This integrated information is also accessible in Esri ArcGIS Story Maps®.

    Public service officials trained in public investment project design produced irrigation and ecosystem service investments that respond to climate change impacts and are aligned with local priorities.

    Six public investment projects worth $15.2 millions were produced as an outcome of our training. Once implemented, these projects will be among the first examples of investments in ‘green’ infrastructure in Peru. They have been adopted for funding by national public funds like Sierra Azul and the provinces of Recuay and Huaraz.

    Ancash developed its Regional Climate Change Strategy, a policy framework that enhances the volume of public funds directed to increase irrigation, ecosystem services, and early warning systems among other water security projects.

    Aligned with the Regional Climate Change Strategy and with project support, the Regional Government established a Compensation for Ecosystem Services Platform and two pilot projects in ecosystem service compensation: one in Quillcayhuanca, the valley above the city of Huaraz, and another in Buin, a major provider of water for irrigation users in the upper and lower Santa River basin.

    41 women leaders trained to promote public investment in local projects. These women serve on municipal councils and grassroots organizations. They raised $88,000 dollars from their local governments to address the needs of rural women affected by climate change.

    The 3 municipal commonwealths we worked with now have Territorial Adaptation Plans that incorporate community-level priorities and technical information generated by students in the public university.

    69 AGRORURAL staff were trained to design participatory Community Adaptation Plans. As Ancash’s leading public agricultural extension agency, AGRORURAL, together with IdM, produced 8 community-level adaptation plans. These plans guide public investment at the district level so that funds respond better to climate change impacts identified by rural communities.

    Water quality remediation experiments were conducted by 3 local research groups. The results included improved forage production and better weatherized homes in high-altitude herding areas plus tourism products. These experiments identified local priorities and triggered local entrepreneurship to develop native solutions to climate change. The bioremediation solution established in the village of Canrey Chico was replicated by users of Shallap–a bigger irrigation system above Huaraz. The example set by these 3 research groups inspired other communities to join them, establishing AICA–Ancash’s Association of Peasant Researchers.

    Implementation of 6 community-level projects has begun guided by community adaptation plans. Their priority response to climate change is fixing existing irrigation systems and improving the efficiency of water use. With technical assistance provided by our project and proper organization, they were able to access small funds and materials support from their district representatives.
  • Partners


    “Securing Mountain Waters and Livelihoods”–a cooperative project of USAID and the Instituto de Montaña in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin.

    We were priviledged to partner with: The communities, villages and irrigation groups of Cordillera Blanca, Los Andes de Recuay, Aquia, Santa Cruz, Tupac Yupanqui, Union Caninaco, José Martín Sotero, Shallap-Huapish-Toclla, Paquishca-Coyllur, and Shirapata-Máchac.

    The Municipal Commonwealths of Tres Cuencas, Waraq and Yanamayo and the dozens of districts and provinces that belong to these commonwealths.

    The Regional Government of Ancash, in particular the Counselor’s Commission on Environment and the Regional Office of Natural Resources and Environment.

    Universidad Nacional Santiago Antunez de Mayolo and the Faculty of Environmental Sciences. Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Eco-Toxicology Laboratory. Universidad Agraria La Molina, Grassland Ecology and Utilization Laboratory.

    Huascarán National Park and Huascarán Biosphere Reserve.

    The Program for Rural Agricultural Development (AGRO-RURAL), Ancash Regional Office.

    United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Science Office in Peru

    The McKnight Foundation, Collaborative Crop Research Program

    The National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM)
Since 1972 The Mountain Institute has partnered with remote mountain communities in the highest, longest and oldest mountains of the world. We work together to conserve ecosystems, develop sustainable livelihoods and protect unique mountain cultures.