The last days of the Illimani

The world will surely be a much poorer and hostile place

Illimani mountains

After arriving to La Paz, Bolivia, visitors immediately enjoy the city’s impressive view. A short trip of about three hours separates the capital from its most famous mountain, the Illimani, which is 6.500 meters high, covered in snow. For the people of the South American country, the highland is a permanent companion. Nevertheless, the possibility that its white top will soon disappear seems more and more certain.

Just like the Illimani, many snow covered mountains of the Andes –the mountain range that goes from Colombia to Chile- are facing a rapid loss of their glaciers and it seems that within a few decades some of these could disappear completely. There is increasing evidence that tropical glaciers will be among the earliest victims of climate change. In addition to these effects, other pollutants such as black carbon are also having a detrimental impact which can already be seen. A couple of decades ago, the Chacaltaya harbored the highest skiing resort in the world. Nowadays, there is no snow or ice left; only the ruins of what once. 

The glaciers and its seasonal thaw are an important source of fresh water and are closely linked to both ecosystems and the needs of drinking water. Even major cities, like Arequipa or La Paz, obtain an important part of their water supply from this source; such provision is particularly important during the dry months. Last year, the residents of La Paz experienced firsthand how risky it can be to depend on glacier thaw in a world of accelerating climate change. Due to low precipitation levels in the rainy season and poor recollection of water, the capital's water reservoirs hit historical lows and the city faced weeks of rationed water and irregular distribution. In fact, the provision only returned to normal after the first rains increased the water level of the dams.

Due to climate change, the world is becoming hostile to many ecosystems and the Andean glaciers are facing some of the harshest threats. There is a strong possibility that we will see these majestic mountains losing their snow covered tips within our lifetimes. 

Latin American Post | Johan Yugar 

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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