McDowell et al, Lived experiences of ‘peak water’

McDowell, G., M. Koppes, L. Harris, K.M.A. Chan, M.F. Price, D.G. Lama and G. Jiménez (2021). “Lived experiences of ‘peak water’ in the high mountains of Nepal and Peru.” Climate and Development: 1-14. Doi: 10.1080/17565529.2021.1913085

Peak water describes the hydrological response of glacier-fed rivers to climate change, indicating that warming first drives increasing discharge until a glacier mass loss threshold is surpassed and discharge falls below values observed prior to contemporary climate warming. Although the physical principles of peak water are well understood and accepted, there remains little empirical work evaluating how hydrological dynamics associated with peak water are experienced by residents of high mountain communities at the frontlines of glacial change. In response, this study—drawing on 160 household interviews, 34 key informant interviews, and 4 focus groups—uses a contextual vulnerability approach to characterize lived experiences of peak water in communities of the upper Manaslu region of the Nepal Himalaya and the Cordillera Huayhuash region of the Peruvian Andes. It problematizes characteristics of vulnerability postulated in the glacio-hydrological modelling literature by revealing unanticipated experiences of peak water dynamics on both the rising and falling limb of the peak water profile. The study complements existing glacio-hydrology literature, demonstrates the importance of social theoretical perspectives in the evaluation of human vulnerability to peak water, and provides insights that can help appropriately target scarce adaptation resources.