WateR security And climate cHange adaptation in PerUvian glacier-fed river basins (RAHU)

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


The anticipated impacts of climate-change induced glacier shrinkage on the water security of mountains and downstream lowlands is a major global concern. However, the connections between climate change, glacier shrinkage, water security and local adaptive capacity are multi-dimensional and non-linear. In many regions of the world including Peru, the physical and human processes that govern them are poorly understood. Therefore, understanding these process, their impacts and implementing adequate science-based adaptation strategies requires an interdisciplinary approach. This approach should combine advancing the state-of-the-art of glaciological and hydrological process understanding, with new insights in current and future levels of water security, human vulnerability, and adaptive capacity.

We propose to address this challenge by developing an integrated glacier - water security assessment model to transform our understanding of the impact of glacier shrinkage on water security and to inform policy practices in Peru. We identify the lack of glaciological, hydro-climatological, and water resources data as a major bottleneck to achieve this. Therefore, we propose participatory water resources monitoring as a radically new approach to transform our knowledge of physical processes, constraining water resources models, and supporting evidence-based policy-making.

We have assembled a world-leading consortium that combines high-level expertise in field monitoring and computer simulation of glaciers and water resources in Peru, with pioneers of participatory data collection for sustainable development and policy-support. This consortium is ideally placed to generate a breakthrough in data availability on the link between glacier reduction and current and future water security. This is needed to build the next generation of glaciological and hydrological models that can support the design and implementation of adequate climate adaptation strategies.

We will use the Vilcanota-Urubamba Basin in southern Peru as our case study. This basin hosts the largest tropical ice cap (Quelccaya) and it is characterised by a very complex water management context and high data scarcity. Our project will follow a "source to tap" paradigm, in which we will deliver the first fully integrated water resources vulnerability assessment framework for glacier-fed basins, comprising state-of-the-art glaciology, hydrology, water demand characterisation, and water security assessment. We will design targeted glacio-hydrological and water resources monitoring campaigns, to complemented existing monitoring efforts of our project partners and collaborators, and new remotely sensed data sets. This campaign will be implemented using the principles and tools of participatory monitoring and knowledge co-creation that our team has pioneered in the tropical Andes.

The datasets produced by this approach, combined with existing monitoring implemented by our team and collaborators, will allow us to build an integrated water supply-demand-vulnerability assessment model for glacierized basins, and to use this to evaluate adaptation strategies at the local scale.

For the latter, we have engaged with a set of policy stakeholders in Peru that play a key role in the implementation of recent transformative legislation on Peruvian water resources management, and in particular in the new law on the implementation of water funds to invest in catchment interventions (Law 30215).

Working directly with these stakeholders will ensure that our approach focuses on locally relevant adaptation strategies, including novel approaches such as the use of nature-based solutions and the restoration of ancestral water "seeding and harvesting practices", thus providing both the scientific basis and the operational tools that support the implementation of this legal framework.

Planned Impact

This proposal has a very specific impact-creation context. We target the implementation of 3 recent Peruvian laws, i.e. Law 29388 (2009) on the incorporation of IWRM strategies in water resources management, Law 30045 (2013) on the modernization of water and sanitation services, and Law 30215 (2014) on the implementation of benefit sharing mechanisms for ecosystem services.

These laws have had profound impact on the operational water management sector in Peru, and promote the establishment of water funds, which finance active catchment interventions to improve the availability and quality of water resources. In this proposal, we have teamed up with key national and local policymakers that are involved in this operationalization, to ensure an optimal relevance and knowledge-transfer. In particular we will work closely with the following project partners to deliver our impact strategy:

- The National Drinking Water and Sanitation Regulating Agency of Peru (SUNASS), which coordinates and supports the establishment of the water funds by the water supply companies;

- The Peruvian National Water Authority (ANA), which is the main executive government institute concerned with water resources;

- The Regional Council for Climate Change of the Regional Government of Cusco (CORECC-Cusco), which is responsible for the delivery of local climate change adaptation strategies in our study region.

In addition, a major element of our strategy to upscale these activities to a national and international level is our collaboration with the recently funded project on "Natural Infrastructure for Water Security in Peru (NIWS)", which is co-financed by USAID and the Canadian Government. The project will run from 2018 - 2022 and is led by the NGO Forest Trends. This strategic collaborations will be a powerful catalyst for impact creation, allowing us to reach out to a larger number of stakeholders, replicate training, and achieve a stronger legacy beyond the lifetime of the project than would otherwise be possible.

We plan the following specific activities to achieve this impact:

- Making availability of data sets, products and code

We will work directly with the glacier and hydrological monitoring teams of our project partners SUNASS, SENAMHI and ANA to ensure that the developed algorithms are compatible with their operational systems and can be readily integrated. Buytaert has a track record of doing so with SENAMHI, for instance for the development of the national PISCO precipitation data set. In addition, we will make all data and code available in the public domain.

- Training activities

Making available the data and computer code will be accompanied by relevant training events, in these institutes. Again, several investigators including Buytaert and Drenkhan have a proven track record of delivering professional hydrological training in Spanish. These events will be supported by technical specifications and briefs to inform technical audiences in Peru. A previous example of such brief is the iMHEA monitoring protocol developed by Imperial and CONDESAN.

- Participation in policy events and policy support

The strategic link with the USAID-funded NIWS project will allow us to provide direct scientific input in operational policy. To facilitate this, we will attend relevant events, provide scientific support to policy documents, tools, and legislative frameworks developed by NIWS. In addition, we plan 2 policy events at the end of the project, of which 1 in Lima and 1 in Cusco.

- Replication beyond Peru

Our consortium has strong links to international policy through long-standing collaborations with UNESCO IHP, the Andean Community of Nations, and several regional actors. We will leverage this network to create international impact, e.g., through UNESCO-facilitated policy briefs and workshops.


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