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FEATURE: How will Quito weather a changing climate?


In honour of Sam Bickersteth’s visit to Ecuador at the end of July, the Municipality of Quito arranged a tour of Quito and its environs for the CDKN Chief Executive, to demonstrate the city’s ‘life support systems’ in the face of a changing climate.  CDKN’s Latin America and Caribbean office is headquartered in Quito. It is here that CDKN’s regional team has one of its most substantial projects: to help the city to assess its vulnerability to climate change and strengthen climate resilience. Vanessa Morales, CDKN Communications Officer, accompanied Sam on the tour and sends this report:

Sam Bickersteth, CDKN Chief Executive, visited Ecuador from the 28th to the 31st of July, where he met representatives of the local and national government, the British embassy and Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA). The Secretary of the Environment from Quito’s City Council organised a field trip to highlight climate change-related water management and vulnerability issues that affect the Metropolitan District of Quito – issues that CDKN’s work is directly addressing.

Carolina Zambrano, Politics Director, and Diego Enríquez, from the Secretary of the Environment of the Municipality of Quito participated in the tour, as well as Marianela Curi and Monica Andrade of CDKN.  José Luis Chiriboga, nature guide and owner of the Pachamama educational ranch, served as our tour guide.

The first stop was a viewpoint located above Simon Bolivar Avenue, to the south of the city, in a densely populated part of Quito which suffers from unsustainable urban growth. There, we were invited by José Luis Chiriboga to connect with the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and to reflect about how sustainability interacts with the challenges of adaptation that face every city in a changing climate.

José Luis proposed to get closer to the SINCHE’s lifestyle. In the Quechua language, this word means “brave, strong and courageous”, but as an anagram, each letter stands for a concept that makes us think about our relation with the environment. SINCHE stands for: Sustainable, Integration, Natural, Cultural, Human and Spirituality (“Espiritualidad” in Spanish). During the journey, José Luis invited the group to reflect on the meaning of each concept.

The first stop, then, at the viewpoint, corresponded with the letter “S”, for sustainable. Along the route, a story would emerge to represent each of the remaining letters.

The next stop was made in a Water Treatment Plant called “El Troje” that gets its supply from Mica Quito Sur, a lake that forms at the slope of the Antisana volcano and is managed by the Quito Metropolitan Potable Water and Sanitary Public Company that supplies water to 600 thousand habitants.

The group could recognize there the meaning of letter “I” (Integration), when José Luis explained how an “integral and integrated management of water resources” is undertaken. That’s because, for Lake Mica to be preserved, resource managers have to take care to safeguard existing sustainable land uses in the area. To achieve this, the Municipality has bought estates in the basins, and delivers water services and co-manages protected areas in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment. Nowadays, Quito has seven connected water treatment systems.

After this, we set off for Cotopaxi, all the way to the Mejía Town Council, where the town of Machachi is found. Before continuing our rise to the volcano, we stopped in the Pachamama Ranch located at 3,000 meters above sea level, built in the XIX century. There we were welcomed with colorful ponchos and an appetiser with the proteins needed to carry on.

José Luis told the story of Bartolomé de las Casas, a dominican Spanish monk and defender of the Indians who sought the acknowledgement of all the many cultures. This corresponds to the meaning of the letter “C” referring to the integration and acceptance of the different cultures.

We carried on as a soft drizzle began and we entered a more rural environment – revealing the meaning of letter “N” (nature), as well as letter “H” (human), because a connection is perceived: our sensory perceptions are heightened. We reached the tall basin of the Pita River, which gets its supply from the Sincholagua Glacier and the Cotopaxi. It absorbs runoff from the plateaus that go from 3400 meters above sea level up to glacier level, at which level water condenses from the clouds that rise from the Andean valley and the Amazonian jungle. The importance of the plateaus in the water cycle is crucial and, in terms of climate change mitigation, they represent an enormous carbon sink.

José Luis explains how the plateaus capture water from the environment at ground level. They create a sort of buffer: a buffer that increases the water temperature and allows plants to grow where it would otherwise be too cold. The plateaus’ geology, then, means they are a water regulator: they become loaded in winter and releases the water in summer, thus maintaining a stable flow in the rivers.

The advance of the agricultural frontier in the area is forcing adaptation and conservation of the plateau’s ecosystem. When the Cotopaxi begins to lose glacier mass due to climate change, the river flow will increase temporarily; on the other hand, it will lose water from the plateaus affected by the advance of the agricultural frontier. To avoid this, adaptation models are needed, considering a scenario where the Sincholagua plateau suffers the same change in water and soil regulation as the Cotopaxi.

Before we began our way back, José Luis asked the meaning of the last letter, “E”. The first idea that came up was energy; definitely the place was full of it! However, the answer was spirituality, a more profound sense than energy itself that left a positive feeling around the group.

After the reflection exercise, Sam Bickersteth recognised that “the work done by the city and by José Luis Chiriboga in the message of SINCHE is very important”. He said that “the direct contact with problems motivates us to keep supporting decision makers in search of finding solutions to achieve a climate compatible development, taking advantage of adaptation opportunities from vulnerable ecosystems, through integrated resources management. A common vision must emerge that incorporates the needs of the native communities, the civil society, private sector and the government.”

In this way, from CDKN we believe that to reduce vulnerability and develop a planned adaptation towards climatic change in the cities, appropriate information must be used to develop policies that match populations’ needs. Sam Bickersteth assured the group that the work of climate compatible development at city level, as a way to diminish the impact that cities have over their territory and globally, is a priority for local governments. CDKN is providing and will continue to provide significant technical assistance in this regard.

What’s more, adaptation and the larger challenge of climate compatible development in cities will become ever more important, as extreme weather events stimulate rural-urban migration and cause productive and habitable lands to be lost.


Water and climate change in Quito : actions to date

The Metropolitan District of Quito (MDQ), with a population of 2,5 million, gets its water supply from the glaciers of the Atacaso, Sincholagua, Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanoes, but unlike other Latin-American countries, water supply is related with the plateaus, and not directly with the glaciers.

Currently, MDQ has no water availability problems, but is foreseen that it will in the future because its fast demographic growth and the possible effects of climatic change upon this resource. In April of this year, the strongest rains in the last 40 years were registered, and 2010 was considered to be one of the drier years.

In the year 2009 the Metropolitan District of Quito Town Council, designed the Quito´s Climate Change Strategy; and in 2010, with CDKN support elaborated an Action Plan on this. In this context, the mayor of Quito, Augusto Barrera, invited the local authorities to assume a national agreement on climate change through “10 actions of Quito against Climate Change”. During 2011, the Town Council will invest 180 million dollars to carry out these actions, as well as 5% of his budget to fight climate change.

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