News / Science & Technology

    Scientists: Disappearance of Bolivia's Lake Poopa a Harbinger

    This photo combo of satellite images provided by the USGS shows Lake Poopo filled with water on Oct, 11, 1986, left, and almost dry in Bolivia, Jan. 16, 2016.
    This photo combo of satellite images provided by the USGS shows Lake Poopo filled with water on Oct, 11, 1986, left, and almost dry in Bolivia, Jan. 16, 2016.
    Associated Press

    Overturned fishing skiffs lie abandoned on the shores of what was Bolivia's second-largest lake. Beetles dine on bird carcasses and gulls fight for scraps under a glaring sun in what marshes remain.

    Lake Poopo was officially declared evaporated last month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone.

    High on Bolivia's semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 meters (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.

    'Future of climate change'

    "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 Poopo'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 Nino meteorological phenomenon is considered the main driver. Authorities say another factor is the diversion of water from Poopo'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," said 29-year-old Juvenal Gutierrez, who moved to a nearby town where he ekes by as a motorcycle taxi driver.

    Record-keeping on the lake's history only goes back 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.

    2 percent of former level

    Poopo is now down to 2 percent of its former water level, regional Gov. Victor Hugo Vasquez calculates. Its maximum depth once reached 16 feet (5 meters). Field biologists say 75 species of birds are gone from the lake.

    While Poopo has suffered El Nino-fueled droughts for millennia, its fragile ecosystem has experienced unprecedented stress in the past three decades. Temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius while mining activity has pinched the flow of tributaries, increasing sediment.

    Florida Institute of Technology biologist Mark B. Bush says the long-term trend of warming and drying threatens the entire Andean highlands.

    A 2010 study he co-authored for the journal Global Change Biology says Bolivia's capital, La Paz, could face catastrophic drought this century. It predicted "inhospitable arid climates" would lessen available food and water this century for the more than 3 million inhabitants of Bolivia's highlands.

    A study by the German consortium Gitec-Cobodes determined that Poopo received 161 billion fewer liters of water in 2013 than required to maintain equilibrium.

    "Irreversible changes in ecosystems could occur, causing massive emigration and greater conflicts," said the study commissioned by Bolivia's government.

    The head of a local citizens' group that tried to save Poopo, Angel Flores, says authorities ignored warnings.

    "Something could have been done to prevent the disaster. Mining companies have been diverting water since 1982," he said.

    Criticism, responsibility

    President Evo Morales has sought to deflect criticism he bears some responsibility, suggesting that Poopo could come back.

    "My father told me about crossing the lake on a bicycle once when it dried up," he said last month after returning from the U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Paris.

    Environmentalists and local activists say the government mismanaged fragile water resources and ignored rampant pollution from mining, Bolivia's second export earner after natural gas. More than 100 mines are upstream and Huanuni, Bolivia's biggest state-owned tin mine, was among those dumping untreated tailings into Poopo's tributaries.

    After thousands of fish died in late 2014, the Universidad Tecnica in the nearby state capital of Oruro found Poopo had unsafe levels of heavy metals, including cadmium and lead.

    Defends mining industry

    The president of Bolivia's National Chamber of Mining, Saturnino Ramos, said any blame by the industry is "insignificant compared to climate change." He said most of the sediment shallowing Poopo's tributaries was natural, not from mining.

    In hopes of bringing it back, Morales' government has asked the European Union for $140 million for water treatment plants for the Poopo watershed and to dredge tributaries led by the Desaguadero, which flows from Lake Titicaca.

    Critics say it may be too late.

    "I don't think we'll be seeing the azure mirror of Poopo again," said Milton Perez, a Universidad Tecnica researcher. "I think we've lost it."

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora