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Project August 23, 2019

The Threat of an Andean Flood and the City That Lies in Its Wake

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Huaraz below the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, the second tallest mountain range after the Himalayas. Image by Audrey Fromson. Peru, 2019.
Huaraz below the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, the second tallest mountain range after the Himalayas. Image by Audrey Fromson. Peru, 2019.

In 1941, a chunk of an adjacent glacier broke off and fell into Lake Palcacocha, hurling a wave through the Andes towards the Santa River valley. Fifteen minutes later, the mudslide hit Huaraz, burying parts of the town and killing approximately 1,800 to 7,000 people.

Since the mudslide, officials have created measures to contain the lake. A dam is intended to contain the body of water, and every two hours guards measure its depth. The lake might not be growing any longer, but it is still too high. A large chunk of ice could cause it to overflow. More pressing to the Peruvians nestled in towns and cities between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra, however, are the ways that climate change is altering the presence of water. Most notably, melting glacial ice means that there simply isn't enough of it.

In this project, journalist Audrey Fromson travels to Huaraz to engage with people like Saul Luciano Lliuya, a Huaraz resident who is suing RWE, Germany's second-biggest energy company for its role in exacerbating climate change, women who tend to livestock in the mountains and who are most closely familiar with the effects of climate change globally, Indigenous farmers threatened by drought and a changing landscape, and Huaraz's citizens who often lack political power and are left out of decisions regarding flood control, yet experience the dangerous effects of the commodification of technical knowledge.

This is the story of owning accountability and working towards action—under a deadline.

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