Climate Impacts on Freshwater in the Americas

When glaciers no longer provide drinking water to the communities that depend on them, what happens to the people?

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When glaciers no longer provide drinking water to the communities that depend on them, what happens to those communities? For the indigenous people in the highlands of Bolivia, this is no longer a theoretical question.

Alivio Aruquipa, a farmer from Khapi, Bolivia explains:

My community and I rely on the Illimani glacier. Its waters irrigate our crops; we use it for drinking, cooking and bathing as our ancestors did. Every year the glacier melts more, so we are worried for our children– they will no longer have water to drink, to irrigate our lands, or to sustain the animals that help us prepare our fields.

At the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. this week, Earthjustice International Program managing attorney Martin Wagner joined Aruquipa and climate expert Kevin Trenberth to describe the impacts of freshwater loss caused by climate change.

Wagner told the commission:

The anticipated effects of climate change on access to freshwater throughout the hemisphere will cause human suffering and undermine basic human rights. The nations of the world – particularly those most responsible for climate change – must redouble their efforts to stop climate change and do everything they can to assist the poor and vulnerable communities that will suffer the greatest as a result of these changes.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said:

Global warming is changing precipitation in the Americas and around the world: rains are becoming more intense, increasing risks of floods, but with longer dry spells and increased risk of droughts. Snow seasons are shorter, with less snow pack. Glaciers are melting. The IPCC projects that by 2055, between 80 and 170 million people in Latin America will likely have insufficient water for their basic needs. Water management will be a major challenge for governments in the coming decades.

The panel called for the commission to formally recognize that climate change is a human rights issue, particularly in the context of water, and to:

  • Call upon all governments to make special efforts to promote equitable access to freshwater and to take steps now to prepare for increased constraints on freshwater access
  • Call upon the governments most responsible for climate change to make the greatest possible efforts to mitigate climate change to minimize its impacts, through national and international action
  • Provide substantial assistance to the most-vulnerable, least-responsible governments as they address climate-induced threats to human rights

View the Power Point presentations here.

An Earthjustice staff member from 1999 until 2015, Brian used outreach and partnership skills to cover many issues, including advocacy campaign efforts to promote a healthy ocean.

The International Program partners with organizations and communities around the world to establish, strengthen, and enforce national and international legal protections for the environment and public health.