Thirty years ago, mountain glaciers in the Peruvian Andes above the town of Lipapca fed downhill streams and rivers, giving life to the sparse vegetation and grasses that made it possible for local shepherds to raise alpacas.
Since then, the population of Lipaca has dropped dramatically; the herders who remained are struggling, and the mountains are no longer white.
But if Eduardo Gold, Peruvian engineer and founder of Peru Glaciers has his way, that could be changing.
Gold came up with the idea of covering the exposed, heat-absorbing dark-colored rock with a special mix of whitewash in order to cool the landscape and hopefully, spur the return of the life-giving glaciers. The World Bank thought enough of the idea to name it one of the 26 winners in its 2009, “100 Ideas to Save the Planet” competition, and awarded Gold $200,000 to get his project started.
Using buckets filled with a mixture of water, sand, lime and soap, Gold and a crew of five splash the whitewash onto loose rocks near the summit of Chalon Sombrero. The work is arduous, and the thin air at 5,000 meters (about 16,400 feet) doesn’t make it any easier.
So far, workers have painted only about 15,000 square meters — literally, a drop in the bucket compared to the 3 billion square meters Gold hopes to cover — but already, Gold claims to be seeing evidence of success.
For those whose livelihoods depend upon the return of the glaciers, desperate times call for desperate measures.