Thursday, February 5, 2015

Postcards from Peru, Part 5: From Digesters to Glaciers

We drove another 75 miles that night to Huancayo, the capital of Junin province, a city of around 350,000 ten times La Oroya’s size, and just a little lower in altitude. We stayed on the main street—my window faced the huge dome of Huancayo Cathedral, and the music and car horns continued well into the night, even in the rain.
Our daytrip from Huancayo took us in two directions: first north (I think) along the Cunas River to the lovely farming countryside of San Jose de Quero, and later back through the city and east to the melting tropical glacier Huaytapallana.

Centro Ecuménico de Promoción y Acción Social, or CEDEPAS (The Ecumenical Center for Advocacy and Social Action), is another NGO with which Joining Hands works. One of their projects is called “Healthy Homes,” which creatively and sustainably helps upgrade living standards for extremely poor peasant farmers. We visited the Samaniego Vera familiy, a couple who had worked with CEDEPAS to improve their farm in several basic but striking ways with the help of affordable tools and clever technology.

Maria Milagros Ysuhuaylas Orellana, a young CEDEPAS engineer, explained the operation. A simple biodigester, consisting of a large black sausage-shaped membrane in a trench, covered by greenhouse plastic to warm it in the Andean cold, coverts manure from their cows and other livestock into methane gas and liquid fertilizer. The gas is piped to a second membrane to hold it for use in a small kitchen stove. It burns cleanly and, most of all, it’s plentiful and free.

The couple also has a simple solar water heater for showers and hand washing, a great comfort in the cold climate. Next to this, a large pen houses guinea pigs for meat, and a greenhouse grows vegetables and fruits that would not otherwise survive here, leading to healthier diets, greater food security, and less need for cash. The couple seemed quite happy with the improvements, which they built with CEDEPAS’s help. The hope is to expand such outreach to thirty more families.
We drove next to the glacier Huaytapallana. The countryside along the way was hauntingly foreign and beautiful. The boggy ground is filled with tiny water holes, star-shaped mosses, and diminutive mounds. Searching for comparisons, I suggested the Scottish highlands, and someone else mentioned Ireland. It looked like sphagnum moss to me. 

While the entire landscape is wildly, fiercely, humblingly magnificent, we were there for what we could not see—a glacier that has lost half its size in two decades. While the melt means plenty of water flowing
down to the cities now, in a few years its loss will mean severe drought for Peru. Walter Lopez Rosales, whose title I think translates to Regional Manager of Natural Resources, talked to us about the glacier loss resulting from climate change. In Peru deforestation is the number one cause of increased greenhouse gases. He described the ongoing work of adaptation and reforestation.

After a second night in Huancayo we took a bus back to Lima. This was no Greyhound! There was plenty of leg room, and even foot rests in this double-decker bus, and flight attendants too, serving meals and drinks. Very cushy. With much more amazing scenery, of course, than plans have. If the U.S. had buses like these, they would be our transportation of choice. 

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