GW70 Feature

Facing up to
4 degree C
Life in the Peruvian Andes is hard. Living at up to 5,000 metres above sea level (higher than the highest European Alp) means that people are incredibly vulnerable to any changes in their environment. Recently, these communities have experienced the worst winter to hit Peru in nearly 50 years with temperatures plummeting to a deadly minus 24ºC. Abbie Upton reports
As a result of record low temperatures, children and elderly people have died in their sleep as they are so poorly protected from the harsh elements by their mud and straw shacks.

The weather has also affected the communities’ herds of s, which people depend upon to feed and clothe their families. Alpaca wool is used to sell on at market to make a living – a vital resource for the families – but, although Alpacas are hardy animals, the extreme temperatures have frozen many mountain streams, cutting off their source of fresh drinking water and making it difficult to keep them alive. Crops have also failed with the temperatures dropping so low that nothing can grow.

In some areas, times have got so tough and food so scarce that parents must face the agonising decision of whether to feed their children or Alpacas first. As without the Alpacas, the indigenous people would have no other way to make a living.

The communities themselves have noticed the changes that climate change is bringing without knowing anything of the science behind it. Farmers and herdsmen can’t switch on the TV to check the weather forecast; they look for signs around them such as when flowers start to bloom and certain animals start to nest and from that they can predict what kind of weather is on its way. However, these indicators are becoming less and less reliable as the climate is changing so rapidly.

Development charity Practical Action works across Peru with these communities to help them adapt to the effects of climate change and become self-sufficient through the innovative use of technology. It believes that the right idea, however small, can change lives and it works together with some of the world’s poorest women, men and children, helping to alleviate poverty in the developing world through the innovative use of technology.

The charity’s particular strength is its simple approach: finding out what people are doing and helping them to do it better. This enables poor communities to build on their own knowledge and skills to produce sustainable and practical solutions, driving their own development.

“Poverty is the real issue here. The people have no resources. They don’t have electricity or heating. All they have to stay warm are blankets and whatever wood and dung they can find to burn,” said Doris Mejia, regional project coordinator, Practical Action Peru.

She continued: “Our mission is to support the people of the high Andes to obtain the skills and resources to survive the harsh winters, to make them more resilient.
“We work with villages to build solar, wind or hydroelectric power generators so they can have electricity to keep warm.

“We also find the best crops to grow, as the extreme cold can wipe out farmers’ crops in one go leaving the family with no food. There are more than 4,000 types of potato in Peru so we work together with communities to find the best ones for the cold.

“It may sound simple, but interventions like these can be real lifesavers – quite literally.”

In addition to these solutions, Practical Action helps Alpaca farmers to plant the right grasses which are high in nutrition and energy, as well as being resistant to the cold, so that the animals remain strong and healthy throughout the year producing thick wool.

It’s assumed that climate change means everywhere will get hotter, but that’s simply not the case. In places like Peru, it will get much colder, and the recent weather has been a stark reminder for the indigenous people of the reality of climate change.

Practical Action has recently launched its ‘Face up to 4C’ campaign, urging UK politicians, including David Cameron, to face up to the 4C temperature rise predicted by the end of the century. In some areas temperatures could rise by as much as 16C, which means one thing for people in developing countries: disaster.

Join the campaign here, or visit the charity’s website at
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