Destruction of Water Security and Mining in Southern Peru: An Attack on Future Generations?

This article was initially published in the Revista Seguridad y Poder Terrestre
Vol. 3 No. 1 (2024): January to March


Droughts in the Andes have increased in frequency in recent years, causing the loss of rivers, lakes and lagoons due to high daytime temperatures, especially in the non-rainy seasons. Lake Titicaca, considered the highest navigable lake in the world, has receded hundreds of meters, reaching alarming levels and losing more than 75 cm of its level. will this problem be related to the decline of Andean glaciers? And will it affect the water security of the population in the Pacific coast, the Andes and the Amazon?

In contrast, the national population, affected by an educational system lacking a future perspective, avoids discussion and concern for vital strategic resources such as freshwater reserves in glaciers, biodiversity conservation and the sustainability of agricultural soils. Geospatial monitoring and analysis of the two most important glacier systems in southern Peru, using satellite images and the cadastre of extractive activities, reveal a systematic destruction of water security in the region.

Despite the growing concern expressed in recent years by the population, the media and governmental institutions about the persistent droughts in the Andes, there is a lack of awareness about the human activities permitted by the State and the private sector in relation to glaciers. Consequently, it is concluded that national policies and regulations related to the management and use of essential resources, such as freshwater reserves (glaciers), must undergo urgent changes. At this juncture, the responsibility to preserve these freshwater reserves in glaciers urges younger generations not to allow their interests to be undermined. Ultimately, knowledge production strategies with a strong emphasis on local valuation and integration of science, policy and community are required to develop robust advocacy, conservation, adaptation, locally tailored and transformative approaches.

Keywords: Water Security, Glaciers, Extractive Activities, Water Stress, Climate Change.


Peru is limited by the lack of knowledge generated from the cultivation of critical thinking. Fundamental problems, such as water stress, will intensify if a reflective and realistic discussion that seeks to identify their causes is not encouraged. In recent years, droughts have been one of the most recurrent natural phenomena in the Andes, surpassing even the low water levels of rivers, lakes and lagoons. Because of the high daytime temperatures, springs, rivers and lagoons have dried up, and the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, retreated hundreds of meters, reaching alarming levels and losing more than 75 cm of its level.

It is essential to highlight that water bodies in the Andean Cordillera receive contributions from rivers fed by ice masses and springs, which are nourished by groundwater from these glacial formations. Consequently, alterations in the dynamics of these Andean ice bodies affect water security on the Pacific coast, the Andes and the Amazon, compromising the resilience of water-related ecosystems and their services. Likewise, the ice extensions in the Andean mountain range represent an essential source of water supply for communities that depend on downstream water flow. These waters contribute to dry season flows and maintain diverse ecosystems. In other words, the water security of the Pacific coast and the Amazon is intrinsically linked to the sustainability of water flow in the Andean mountain range, where glaciers serve as a store or reserve for periods of water stress. The decrease of these ice masses and snow cover leads to a constant reduction of seasonal runoff, generating significant implications for downstream water security. This translates into various risks, both hydro-sociological and political, including decreased and less reliable water availability, changes in water quality, and alterations in other ecosystems.

The impacts of decreasing glacier mass and changes in snow cover result in the loss of livelihood systems and forms of agricultural production in high mountains. There is no well-developed monitoring of relevant natural and human systems;[1] most countries show a “poorly developed” monitoring network or no network at all. Only six nations in North America and Europe maintain a “well-developed” glacier monitoring strategy. In these regions, meteorological parameters are also generally better monitored. New remote sensing techniques have the potential to provide more extensive monitoring of glaciers and snow cover; recent applications include weekly snow depth retrievals for the Northern Hemisphere and globally resolved glacier ice thickness variations.[2] (Drenkhan, 2023).

The paucity of observational data has direct implications for future projections, to constrain model parameters through cross-validation and to improve understanding of the process. For example, glacier mass fluctuations are not yet adequately represented in computational models (e.g., through proper parameterization of the energy balance and ice flow equations), leading to substantial uncertainty in future projections.[3]

Knowledge gaps extend beyond the cryosphere.[4] Downstream availability is determined by broader basin hydrology, from the totality of cryospheric and non-cryospheric surface and groundwater stores. For example, non-cryospheric precipitation data in mountainous areas are crucial for assessing water availability and remain a major challenge in terms of availability, continuity and quality.[5] Complex mountain topography results in strong local atmospheric gradients such as orographic effects and makes coarse resolution climate models inaccurate predictors of future changes. In addition to scaling issues, uncertainties about large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns remain prevalent: the South Asian[6] monsoon or zonal wind patterns controlling moisture transport from the Amazon to the Andes[7] exerting important control over regional-scale precipitation regimes. As a result, even the sign of a future precipitation shift remains often unclear and debated. However, the most recent Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms the general trend of intensifying climate extremes with wetter (drier) regions becoming wetter (drier) with more pronounced heavy precipitation events in some mountainous regions.[8] Uncertainties around the frequency and magnitude of future droughts and their implications for water management remain high. Similar data gaps exist for other hydrological processes, such as soil moisture, vegetation dynamics, and groundwater.

The dynamics and flow between extractive activities, local socioeconomic factors, water demand and adaptive capacity in Peru are not studied in a systemic way. The precariousness of the educational system has repercussions on the growth of the informal, illegal and even criminal economy. The population sees an opportunity in informal and formal mining on glaciers that puts the sustainability of freshwater reserves at risk. In addition, the increase and expansion of intensive agriculture will increase future pressure on the allocation and access to water resources.

Weak water governance is evident, as conflicts over the water crisis have increased to a large extent, in recent years, leading to an increase in water stress. The discussion or recovery of sustainable ancestral management systems is neither promoted nor motivated. Ensuring mountain water security requires a holistic understanding of the complex links between cryospheric changes, climate change, and coupled downstream human and natural systems. [9]

Local and regional responsibility is absolutely precarious with respect to the conservation of water sources for future generations. Public entities are not interested in local participation and transdisciplinary research studies that would allow the development of effective local and regional adaptation strategies. Strategies based on incremental measures are not advancing at the same speed as the increasing severity of climate change impacts and the potential limits of current adaptation processes.

There are no universities, scientists and policy makers who are determined to seek the long-term sustainability of life in the altiplano and the Andes. If we want to avoid the loss of springs, rivers, lagoons, including the highest navigable lake in the world, the Titicaca, the national population, overshadowed by a medieval education system without foresight, does not make visible the problems that may jeopardize the survival of the entire population. Much less does it avoid economic activities that threaten the water security of the entire country, especially the interests of future generations.

Method and Materials

Two tropical glacier systems were chosen in southern Peru: Ananea and Barroso. The Ananea glacier, with an altitude of 5,500 m.a.s.l., is part of the Apolobamba mountain range, covering Peruvian and Bolivian territory. It is located in the department of Puno, between the coordinates 14º 25′ – 14º 44′ south latitude and 69º 13′ – 69º 32′ west longitude, with a linear length of approximately 40 km from the border with Bolivia to the vicinity of the Carabaya mountain range. On the other hand, the Barroso snow-capped mountain, with an altitude of 5,815 m.a.s.l., is located 49 km northeast of the city of Tacna. Its location covers 16° 41′ and 17° 37′ south latitude, and 69° 45′ and 70° 40′ west longitude, crossing the departments of Tacna (Tacna, Tarata and Candarave provinces) and Moquegua (Mariscal Nieto province).

For the investigation of these glaciers, records from the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) database were used and satellite images with spatial information were identified from the United States Geological Survey-National Aeronautics and Space Administration (USGS-NASA) database. Satellite images in TIFF format were downloaded from LandSat 8 OLI and Sentinel 2A of the glacier areas under analysis, taking into account spectral feasibility. In addition, with the purpose of evaluating the existence of risks of human origin, the geospatial processing of the information of the glacier area was carried out in raster format and the mining rights granted by the Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute (INGEMET) were superimposed in vector format.

The vector format file of the areas destined for exploration and exploitation by private entities was obtained from the INGEMET mining cadastre. The overlay of mining activities on the glacier surface was performed by merging raster layers of LandSat 8 OLI and Sentinel 2A satellite images (TIFF format, Tagged Image File Format) and the vector layer (shape format) of INGEMET’s GEOCATMIN mining cadastre. The validity and reliability of both raster and vector data sets were verified by field exploration. For the geoprocessing of the obtained images and their analysis, QuantumGIS and its complements were used.


The results show that, in recent years, mining exploration and exploitation activities with a significant thermal impact have been established in the two snow-capped mountains studied. These range from large-scale mineral resource extraction to formal and illegal mining. Both large-scale mining and formal and informal mining use combustion energy in various forms for mineral extraction, resulting in an increase in heat concentration. According to the law of thermodynamics, this raises the temperature in the glacial zone, thus accelerating the deglaciation process.

This increase in the level of deglaciation is not only due to the heat radiation generated by the various extractive industrial and technological processes during the exploration and exploitation stages, but also to the presence of anthropic activities directly and indirectly related to mineral extraction. These actions have a drastic impact on the sustainability of the glacier mass. The following is a description and presentation of the extent of extractive activity on the glacier cover in each of the glaciers studied:

Figure 1: Nevado Ananea and Union of Layers with Mining Cadastre on Glaciers

The first map shows the surface of the Ananea glacier in Geo TIFF format obtained from LandSat 8 OLI, while the second map shows the overlay of mining rights granted by MINAM to private entities on the Ananea glacier. The latter highlights the intersection of information from the mining cadastre with the geographic extension of the Ananea glacier, providing a clear view of the distribution of mining concessions in relation to the topography of the glacier.

Figure 2: Nevado Barroso Glacier Layer Union with Mining Cadastre on Glaciers

Two cartographic representations are shown: the first illustrates the surface of the Barroso glacier in Geo TIFF format, obtained from Sentinel 2A MSI, while the second reflects the overlay of mining rights granted by MINAM to private entities on the Barroso glacier. The latter map shows the integration of layers of information from the mining cadastre on the glacier surface, highlighting the expansion of mining concessions in relation to the topography of the Barroso glacier.

After merging the raster layers of the glacier surface in TIFF format and the vector layer of the mining cadastre mapping in shape format, a spatial analysis of the glacier system is performed, as shown in Figure 2. With a total area of 42.6 km2 , it is highlighted that 75% of the glacier surface is threatened by the mining thermal flow, which could have catastrophic consequences in the coming decades for Tacna, one of the regions with a high risk of water stress.

Water Security Priorities

1. Water security emerges as a vital need for survival. However, the results indicate that for a large part of the Peruvian population living in the Andes and for the drivers of extractive economic activities, this aspect is not a priority.

2. The figures presented in the results show that MINAM, instead of protecting the interests of the population, allows the destruction of glaciers. The national mining cadastre registers mining rights granted to private entities that cover 100 % of the glacier surface of Ananea and 75 % of Barroso.

3. Despite the growing concern about droughts in the Andes, the population has not noticed that for decades anthropogenic activities promoted by both the State and the private sector have been allowed on the glaciers, which will have catastrophic consequences for future generations.

4. It is imperative to urgently change the many national policies and regulations related to the management and use of vital strategic resources such as freshwater (glaciers), biodiversity and agricultural soils. The active participation of the younger generations is essential, as they will be the most affected by the current problems.

5. The responsibility for conserving freshwater reserves on glaciers falls on the children and young generations. A comprehensive knowledge production strategy that involves local appreciation and integrates science, policy and community is needed to develop sound, locally adapted and transformational adaptation strategies.

6. Defense and adaptation strategies should be based on local ecosystem conservation systems, using ancestral knowledge. Defense of vital resources is a societal right and adaptation must go beyond external guidelines, addressing the root causes of vulnerabilities.

7. The formation of a new critical mass and a political elite far removed from colonial traditionalisms is required. Local indigenous knowledge could become effective solutions, as seen in the theorization of “nature-based solutions” (NBS) in economically and politically powerful countries.

8. The emergence of a young generation committed to their future could drive capacity building for effective headwater management, implementing sustainable systems, forest restoration, wetland conservation and innovative approaches to maintain water quality.


Recognizing that norms are created by human beings and, therefore, can be modified by the decision of the stakeholders, it is imperative to advocate for an urgent change in national policies and norms related to the management of vital strategic resources, such as the freshwater reserves represented by glaciers. The responsibility for conserving these reserves falls squarely on the new generations of children and youth. Therefore, they should be urged to organize themselves and actively participate in water governance, taking a proactive role to prevent attacks on their interests. In this context, it is essential to recognize that every individual who considers having some degree of humanity in his or her existence must allow the flow of knowledge production strategies. Such strategies must place special emphasis on local valuation and effectively integrate science, policy and community to develop robust strategies for defense, conservation, adaptation and transformation, tailored to local needs.


  1. Gärtner-Roer, Nussbaumer, Hüsler & Zemp, “Worldwide assessment of national glacier monitoring and future perspectives”, Mountain Research and Development 39 (2019), A1–A11.
  2. Fabian Drenkhan, et al, “Looking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security”, Nature Sustainability 6, n.º 2 (2023), 130-138.
  3. Marzeion, et al, “Partitioning the Uncertainty of Ensemble Projections of Global Glacier Mass Change”, Earth’s Future 8 (2020), 1–25.
  4. Mackay, et al, “Proglacial groundwater storage dynamics under climate change and glacier retreat”, Hydrol Process 34, (2020),5456–5473; Somers, et al, “Groundwater Buffers Decreasing Glacier Melt in an Andean Watershed—But Not Forever”, Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, (2019)13016–13026.
  5. Shahgedanova, et al, “Mountain Observatories: Status and Prospects for Enhancing and Connecting a Global Community”, Mt. Res. Dev. 41 (2021).
  6. Drenkhan, et al, “Looking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security”, Nature Sustainability 6(2) (2023),130-138; Doblas-Reyes, et al, “Linking Global to Regional Climate Change”, In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds. Masson-Delmotte, et al.). Cambridge University Press, (2021).
  7. Neukom, et al, “Facing unprecedented drying of the Central Andes? Precipitation variability over the period AD 1000–2100”, Environmental Research Letters (2015),10, 1–13.
  8. Douville, et al, “Water Cycle Changes”, in Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds. Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) Cambridge University Press, (2021).
  9. Fabian Drenkhan, et al, “Looking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security”, Nature Sustainability 6, n.º 2 (2023), 130-138.


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The ideas contained in this analysis are the sole responsibility of the author, without necessarily reflecting the thoughts of the CEEEP or the Peruvian Army.

Image: CEEEP