The mountain's paramo, or alpine tundra ecosystem, has been misused and resulted in the diminishing of the region's glacial cap.
Members of the Indigenous communities in the surrounding areas of Ecuador's highest mountain, the inactive ice-capped Chimborazo volcano, are taking steps to reverse environmental damage caused by cultivation and non-native cattle.
The mountain's paramo, or alpine tundra ecosystem, has been misused and resulted in the diminishing of the region's glacial cap. The abuse has a cyclical effect since the paramo's soil holds water that flows from the melting glacier and supplies the surrounding communities with water for "their crops, their animals, (and) their consumption,” an expert from Ecuador's Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMHI), Bolivar Caceres, noted.
Gustavo Paca, a local community leader, explained the reasoning behind the mistake, saying that "in the lower part nothing was growing, (so) we said to ourselves: let’s move upwards because there the land is fertile.”
Paca added that the error was a result of "ignorance" which has caused significant damage to the ecosystem, and the communities themselves.
The Indigenous people from the communities around Chimborazo consider themselves to be protectors of the Earth and have acknowledged responsibility for the environmental damage they have caused.
“We produced a great deal, but today, we can see that the water flow has decreased,” Paca mulled.
Because of dried up wells, and the increasing difficulty in foraging for new water sources, only 17 of the Pulingui Indigenous community's 105 hectares are currently being irrigated.
Chimborazo, with a glacial cap measured at 27 square meters in 1962, has experienced a 27 percent reduction in the blanket of snow cover to 7.6 square meters in 2016. The paramo, which was once covered with grasses and aromatic shrubs, has been disrupted by soil-damaging cattle and farming over the last 60 years.
Maria Chaza, a resident of the area, recalled "what a wonderful mountain it was. Now, there are only fields, cattle. Chimborazo has been skinned, and because of that, there is no water. Because of that, we suffer."
Attempts to mitigate the damage includes reintroducing native vegetation and animals to the area.
Andean species such as llamas and vicunas have padded feet that do not cause as much damage to the soil. A plan consisting of purchasing hundreds of hectares of untouched land to increase water catchment is currently being implemented by the local communities.
San Andres government head Francisco Hidalgo points out that while it is a shame that communities are now paying for resources once available in the area's natural ecosystem, "there are communities that are devastated, with useless land, which is why we are working to improve irrigation systems."