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Meltdown: Images of What We Lose When the Glaciers Disappear

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My mother was 18 years old when she sailed across a vast ocean from her native country, Peru, to her stepfather's homeland of Denmark. When I was a little girl, my family used to visit Peru every couple of years. I have such vivid memories of playing with the local kids in the streets, trying to catch stray puppies, swimming in mountain rivers and eating freshly caught fish.

I recently traveled back to my mother's homeland as a photographer and ambassador for the humanitarian organization Oxfam. I wanted to draw attention to the effects of climate change on this beautiful country of rainforests, mountains and coastal deserts and raise awareness of the heartbreaking issues the people of Peru face.

As with many poorer countries, Peru is bearing the brunt of a problem it has done little to cause. What is happening scientifically is complicated to explain, but the effects are clear for everyone to see. Peru's CO2 emissions account for only 0.1 percent of greenhouse gasses in the earth's atmosphere. But with some 77 percent of the highest tropical mountains on the planet, it is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, since there are so many towns at high altitude.

There are 18 glacier mountain ranges in Peru, and all of them are melting fast. It is estimated that by 2020 all the glaciers lower than 5,000 meters above sea level will have been lost. This will affect all aspects of life in the country.

The farmers we met and talked to are already living incredibly tough lives, and are now being forced to adapt to the effects of the rapidly changing climate. They can no longer rely on farming, because the weather has become too erratic to count on.

One of the women I spoke to, Elizabeth Ayma, told me that because rainfall is less frequent now and impossible to predict, this is having a huge effect on food production. As a result, her family has less food to eat and less produce to sell, meaning that she is not able to afford her children's school fees. The lack of nutritional vegetables also affects her family's health.

Another woman, Justina Pumasumpa told us they blame themselves for the change in climate. "The Bible describes droughts and earth tremors, and this is like an act of God. We have less and less water, and we must have done something wrong to make God so angry."

This breaks my heart, but I am encouraged at the steps they have taken to protect their precious water by creating a reservoir in the village.

Another farmer I met, Enrique Mandura, asked me to pass the word to the politicians discussing climate change in Copenhagen that they would be grateful for a deal that gives them water and soil conservation, so they can maintain their crops and livestock.

"We have so little water and the seasons are continually changing," he said. "Our alpacas die and our vegetables too from the lack of water. How can we protect our glaciers? We watch them disappear and feel helpless about it. What will we do when there is no water here? We will all have to move to the overcrowded city, and what can we do for work then?"

I photographed some stunning sights in Peru, and met some truly inspiring people. They are doing what they can to fight the effects of the climate changes but the power lies in the hands of the world leaders. I realize now that the drastic steps they must take in order to lower the carbon dioxide emissions and help these communities cope won't be easy tasks. But it needs to be done, there is really no way around it anymore.

Helena Christiansen
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I am looking forward with anticipation and baited breath to the conference in my hometown of Copenhagen. We are at a critical tipping point. There's no time left, it is absolutely imperative to act now.

A Danish saying goes along the lines of, "every tiny stream put together creates one big river." We all know that it will take time and cost a hell of a lot of money to change the world's priorities. But we don't have a choice anymore.

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