Peru’s Deserts Bloom, but …

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VIRU, Peru — The desert blooms now. Blueberries grow to the size of Ping-Pong balls in nothing but sand. Asparagus fields cross dunes, disappearing over the horizon.

The desert produce is packed and shipped to places like Denmark and Delaware. Electricity and water have come to villages that long had neither. Farmers have moved here from the mountains, seeking new futures on all the irrigated land.

It might sound like a perfect development plan, except for one catch: The reason so much water flows through this desert is that an icecap high up in the mountains is melting away.

And the bonanza may not last much longer.

“If the water disappears, we’d have to go back to how it was before,” said Miguel Beltrán, a 62-year-old farmer who worries what will happen when water levels fall. “The land was empty and people went hungry.”

In this part of Peru, climate change has been a blessing — but it may become a curse. In recent decades, accelerating glacial melt in the Andes has enabled a gold rush downstream, contributing to the irrigation and cultivation of more than 100,000 acres of land since the 1980s.

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A 30-year-old photograph taken from a nearby location was placed on the path to the Pastoruri glacier in Áncash, Peru, showing how far the ice has retreated. CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times

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