Posted Sunday morning, November 26, 2017.
“An irrigation canal running through the desert south of Trujillo, Peru. Accelerating glacial melt in the Andes has allowed more than 100,000 acres of land to be brought into cultivation since the 1980s.” Photo by Tomas Munita for The New York Times.
Meanwhile, in the Andes…
VIRU, Peru — The desert blooms now. Blueberries grow to the size of Ping-Pong balls in nothing but sand. Asparagus fields cross dunes, disappearing over the horizon.
The desert produce is packed and shipped to places like Denmark and Delaware. Electricity and water have come to villages that long had neither. Farmers have moved here from the mountains, seeking new futures on all the irrigated land.
It might sound like a perfect development plan, except for one catch: The reason so much water flows through this desert is that an icecap high up in the mountains is melting away.
And the bonanza may not last much longer.
“If the water disappears, we’d have to go back to how it was before,” said Miguel Beltrán, a 62-year-old farmer who worries what will happen when water levels fall. “The land was empty and people went hungry.”
In this part of Peru, climate change has been a blessing — but it may become a curse. In recent decades, accelerating glacial melt in the Andes has enabled a gold rush downstream, contributing to the irrigation and cultivation of more than 100,000 acres of land since the 1980s.
Yet the boon is temporary. The flow of water is already declining as the glacier vanishes, and scientists estimate that by 2050 much of the icecap will be gone.
As if that isn’t trouble enough…
The retreat of the icecap has exposed tracts of heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, that were locked under the glaciers for thousands of years, scientists say. They are now leaking into the ground water supply, turning entire streams red, killing livestock and crops, and making the water undrinkable.
Temperatures in this area have risen sharply, leading to strange changes in crop cycles, farmers say. Over the past decade, corn — which since precolonial times was grown only once a year in the mountains — can now be harvested in two cycles, sometimes three.
That would be a windfall, said farmers like Francisco Castillo, if it were not for all the pests that now thrive in the warmer air.
For Mr. Castillo, who plants corn and rice near the Santa River in Chimbote, it was a worm that became the scourge for him and neighboring farmers. It suddenly started devouring their crops in the early 2000s.
Then, last year, came the rats.
“This wasn’t a place you had rats before,” Mr. Castillo said.
For Justiniano Daga, a 72-year-old farmer, the breaking point for his cotton crops came when red ants ate away the buds…
To read all of the story and see more of Tomas Munita’s stunning photos, follow the link to In Peru’s Deserts, Melting Glaciers Are a Godsend (Until They’re Gone) at the New York Times.