Wednesday, January 27, 2016

As Andean glaciers disappear Bolivia's second-largest lake dries up and may be gone forever, lost to climate change

Lake Poopó was officially declared evaporated in December. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone.

High on Bolivia’s semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 metres (more than 12,000 feet) and long subject to climatic whims, the shallow saline lake has essentially dried up before only to rebound to twice the area of Los Angeles.

But recovery may no longer be possible, scientists say.

“This is a picture of the future of climate change,” says Dirk Hoffman, a German glaciologist who studies how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated glacial melting in Bolivia.

  • As Andean glaciers disappear, so do the sources of Poopó’s water. But other factors are in play in the demise of Bolivia’s second-largest body of water behind Lake Titicaca.

Drought caused by the recurrent El Niño meteorological phenomenon is considered the main driver. Authorities say another factor is the diversion of water from Poopó’s tributaries, mostly for mining but also for agriculture.

More than 100 families have sold their sheep, llamas and alpaca, set aside their fishing nets and quit the former lakeside village of Untavi over the past three years, draining it of well over half its population. Only the elderly remain.

“There’s no future here,” says 29-year-old Juvenal Gutierrez, who moved to a nearby town where he has taken a job as a motorcycle taxi driver.

Record-keeping on the lake’s history goes back only a century, and there is no good tally of the people displaced by its disappearance. At least 3,250 people have received humanitarian aid, the governor’s office says....

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