2022 MPA Nominee –
Acceso PanAm

Mountain Protection, UIAA

This project aims to protect Cajon del Maipo (home to the Glacial Natural Monument, two Nature Sanctuaries, as well as other protected areas) and its cultural and environmental ecosystem services by inspiring and promoting social engagement and building a diverse environmental movement for enduring stewardship of the Maipo Basin, provider of 70% of the Chilean capital’s drinking water.

Montañas de Agua is a communication-advocacy strategy that combines communication, advocacy, and social mobilisation with the aim of drawing attention to the relationship among mountains and the water we drink, as well as how a hydropower project in the Maipo River basin is putting the water cycle and outdoor recreation, such as mountaineering, at risk by affecting the local mountain ecosystem.

Vision, goals and objectives

The Maipo River Basin is highly valued for the recreation and tourism opportunities it offers, such as hiking trails, climbing routes and mountaineering. A hydropower initiative called Alto Maipo in the Maipo Basin plans to capture and divert the waters of the Maipo River into the Colorado River, where a hydroelectric plant promises to take advantage of this increase in flow to generate a greater amount of energy that will feed mining projects.

The waters of the Maipo’s three main tributaries will be diverted through a 70-kilometre mining tunnel that crosses underneath several mountains and glaciers. The tunnels have no coating, which threatens the underground and surface water reserves of the basin. The initiative’s impacts may increase the water stress that is already taking place in Santiago, especially considering the glacier retreat, population growth, and intensive water use by the agriculture and mining industries. Moreover, the initiative will not only affect the supply of drinking water for the metropolitan region, but also limit the availability of water in the ecosystem, impacting the watershed, biodiversity, and local population.

Project’s specific objectives and related achievements

  • Create awareness about the impacts caused by the Alto Maipo project on the watershed and the risks for the  mountain environment and the Santiago population. Awareness materials will be designed and distributed along appropriate channels.
  • Strategic alliance with media and other organisations for strengthened advocacy and communication.
  • Connect environmental and social values with environmental ecosystem services provided by recreation activities and the Maipo watershed.
  • Campaign audience and their values identified.
  • Community engaged to protect the Maipo watershed by joining the call-to-action and sharing materials.
  • To empower the public and enable them to make informed choices regarding Cajon del Maipo.
  • Citizen groups/networks strengthened to have more effective participation in policy and advocacy.
  • People engaged in an online call-to-action campaign to press the authorities to stop the construction while the RCA is reviewed.
  • Communication has a key role in spreading awareness and in making the campaign objectives accessible and understandable. An effective communication-advocacy is one of the most powerful tools to inspire behaviour change and action. Planned communication is, in fact, a vital instrument to maximise the probability of campaign success.
  • The project’s communication-advocacy strategy is an integrated approach that combines communication, advocacy, and social mobilisation rather than on just information dissemination. Over here we want to use communication as an advocacy tool, going beyond raising awareness and providing information – it is the means to inspire people to change behaviours and engage them to take action.
Expected implementation and outcomes

Montañas de Agua draws attention to the relationship among mountains and the water we drink, as well as how Alto Maipo is putting the water cycle and outdoor recreation, such as mountaineering, at risk by affecting the local mountain ecosystem.

Acceso PanAm teamed up with MVMT, a local communication agency from Santiago with previous experiences in handling mountain issues, including within the climbing community.

Acceso PanAm appealed to an emotional tone to draw attention, engage the community and promote action. The campaign uses local climber’s previous experiences to turn passive support into action. As climbers we know the benefits of a good winter season in the mountains for the practice of activities such as ice climbing, winter mountaineering, hiking and free skiing. In places where snow and ice were historically common, changes in the ecosystem can be expected to affect snowpack development, distribution, and melt as temperature increases and the timing and quantity of precipitation change. Increasing temperature impacts snowpack directly by affecting both the seasonal timing of snowmelt and the period of the year that is cool enough to promote snowpack accumulation.

The impacts of Alto Maipo in the Maipo’s basin ecosystem, as well as climate change, put our passion and lifestyle at risk, changing forever the places where we practice what we love. That’s a common threat to our community and a feeling strong enough to engage and take action. We also wanted to go beyond the climbing community, therefore, we chose to use an animated short film and infographics illustrated by a well-known illustrator in Chile, Estudio Toro.

Climbing, mountaineering or outdoor sport focus

The campaign focuses on local climbers and mountain lovers who live in Santiago (70km away from Alto Maipo) and who have not yet taken part in the conflict raised by the hydroelectric initiative.

Montañas de Agua connects people and mountains, inspiring citizens to appreciate and assume stewardship over mountain areas. It is a hands-on approach that advances a land ethic that inspires changes in underlying values to increase the connection with mountain ecosystem services.

Best practice in mountaineering and mountain-based sports for mountain protection

The neighbours of San José de Maipo and other small towns along the Maipo Basin organised themselves into an advocacy group that ran the “No Alto Maipo” campaign for the past 10 years. However, the campaign has not been able to effectively engage the public and has lost momentum. They have segmented the campaign communication per issue presenting the information disconnectedly, and exploring the scientific point of view (and jargon) to bring people to stand against the project.

A broader movement called “Somos Maipo” was created in 2019 encompassing over 20 organisations, including Patagonia and Acceso PanAm. This pro-Maipo alliance arises from the urgency of raising awareness among a more diverse audience about the importance of protecting watersheds, ecosystems, water sources and rivers. A broad, systemic approach is key in presenting the socio-ecological aspects and environmental ecosystem services. That is where Montañas de Agua comes in.

To create awareness about the impacts caused by that hydroelectric project and the risks to the mountain environment and local population, Acceso PanAm ran the Montañas de Agua (Mountains of Water) campaign. This campaign seeks to protect Cajon del Maipo, its cultural and environmental ecosystem services, by inspiring and promoting social engagement and building a diverse environmental movement for enduring stewardship of the Maipo Basin.

To discover more about the UIAA Mountain Protection Award please click here.

Please note that the content published in this article is courtesy of the Award nominee. The UIAA has made minor revisions to the original submission.