About 99 percent of the Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia has disappeared since 1940, says World Bank engineer Walter Vergara, in his new report, "The Impacts of Climate Change in Latin America."
One of the highest glaciers in South America, Chacaltaya is one of the first glaciers to melt due to climate change. Although the glacier is over 18,000 years old, it is expected to vanish this year.
Since 1970, glaciers in the Andes have lost 20 percent of their volume, according to a report by Peru's National Meteorology and Hydrology Service.
Loss of glaciers in the Andes mountain range is threatening the water supply of 30 million people, and scientists say the lower altitude glaciers could disappear in 10 years.
With water supplies, agriculture, and power generation at risk, the World Bank and the funding agency Global Environment Facility are working together to develop adaptation strategies for local communities.
In addition, the World Bank signed an agreement this month with the Japanese Space Agency that will start providing advance data and high resolution images to better monitor Andes Glacier retreat.
Seventy percent of the world's tropical glaciers are in the high Andes Cordillera of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
One of the functions of glaciers is to regulate water supply through runoffs during dry and warmer periods and store water in the form of ice during wet and colder periods. As glaciers retreat, this function will be lost, warns Vergara.
The entire range of the tropical Andes, home to over 30 million people and host to the vital global biodiversity, will be affected. As a result, shrinking water supplies will leave mountain communities, agriculture, and entire ecosystems high and dry.
Large cities in the region depend on glacial runoffs for their water supply. Quito, Ecuador's capital city, draws 50 percent of its water supply from the glacial basin, and Bolivia's capital, La Paz, draws 30 percent of its water supply.
The volume of the lost glacier surfaces of Peru is equivalent to about 10 years of water supply for Lima, Vergara says.
Power supplies also will be affected as most countries in the Andes are dependent on hydroelectric power generation. Peru gets 81 percent of its electricity from hydropower, Colombia generates 73 percent from hydropower, Ecuador is 72 percent hydro-dependent, and Bolivia, 50 percent.
The World Bank and Global Environment Facility are supporting the development of adaptation plans prepared with the assistance of a multidisciplinary group that includes expertise in glaciology, remote sensing, agriculture, water and power supply, and rural development.
Diversification of energy supplies, shifts to alternative crops and development of advanced irrigation systems also can help Andean communities adapt to climate change.