Top of page Skip navigation

Cusco Floods

Date: 29 Jan 2010

Some Climate Change - Escuelita Haucarpay, Cusco - Prizewinning Refuge

It's incredible to think that not just over a month ago, Escuela Haucarpay was receiving national recognition for demonstrating it is a leader in sustainable education. Head teacher, Yanet Honor Casaperalta has steered her school and community towards an understanding of changing environments and more importantly how their community can adapt. Most notably what the students have been learning and doing in school they have introduced to their homes in the small town below. Small patches of ground in and around their homes have been under change, from waste ground to edible gardens.

Understanding change, particularly from the perils of climate change, will be so important for these communities. Who is responsible for these changes is of low importance, higher on the scale of priorities is a clear understanding of what those changes will be and, more importantly, how to adapt to those changes. What the school community of Haucarpay can be proud of today is how it has responded to what we believe will be sustainable lives of the future. That is not to say that these poor communities are running around switching off lights and car sharing, that's what they do, they are poor. The changes the community have made are more in the way of having a common goal and future.

That strength in the community is needed now as change has come to Haucarpay in a big way this week. The town is situated beside the low lying wetlands and lakes known collectively as the Lucre Lakes, famous for its visiting migrating birds and of course its ducks (a local gastronomic delight. On Monday all rivers feeding into this convergence of water swelled to high levels discharging quickly into the lakes and wetlands below. The small town of Haucarpay has been completely submerged leaving ironically the school as the only safe building. Residents have been spending the night there since Monday.

The irony of this situation is that the school has been doing such a good job in Education for Sustainable Development but in fact has failed to address the bigger impacts of climate change. How could it? It's been one thing to teach students how to feed themselves from small areas, it's another thing entirely adapting or responding to floods on this scale. It has not just been the crops on the low lying fields that have been destroyed, all those edible gardens have gone too.

It's not just Haucarpay that has been affected. Lucre has suffered as have the towns bordering the Rio Vilcanota that runs on down to Machu Picchu. You can see the wider news reports from the web links suggested as tourists trapped in the gorges of the Rio Vilcanota that runs below Machu Picchu. The main road from Cusco to Puno has been swept away in many places making it hard for food and materials and people to get through from towns to the city of Cusco. Inevitably prices of goods and services as a consequence have increased.

The floods have hit the international news, but because of the plight of international tourists in an internationally renowned tourist site. What of the nationals? Not those trapped into the tourist circus at Aguas Calientes, but those in the regions where tourists don't get to, the everyday small towns and villages of the Andes. I wonder how many of the tourists will be questioning why these floods have occurred and what is their role in the bigger picture.

The big question for me in all of this is whether the work we are developing and implementing on preparing young people for a ‘sustainable future' is not perhaps raising expectations, or maybe even denying them the truth of the future, or perhaps we have just got it wrong. Whatever the case I am sure that the young students and their families and teachers of Escuela Huacarpay must be questioning what was the point of their prize winning work at their school. This is one thought we will have to give some serious thought to. Oh and remember it was only two months ago that West Cumbria was going through the same turmoil.

Download the Huarcarpay photo newsletter about the floods