National disaster declared upon drying up of Lake Poopo

Bolivia’s second largest lake has dried up with devastating impacts, proving that financial support from the European Union was not enough to save the high-altitude saltwater ecosystem of Bolivia’s Lake Poopo prompting local authorities to declare a national disaster, local media reported Sunday.  The saline lake had been ebbing away for years, thanks to a combination of factors but had at least been able to retain some of its water, until now.

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Lake Poopo inhabited by flamingoes during happier times (http://bit.ly/1nk9QwS)

Local fishermen say that the warning signs started back in 1996, when a drought dried up Lake Poopó. At that time, rain and influxes from the river that feeds the lake, the Desaquadero, helped to bring it back from the brink. “We have no lake. There were flamingos. But after the first few days of December, we are not surprised the lake has dried up,” Valerio Calle Rojas, one of 150 fishermen from the Untavi community, told Reuters. South of La Paz at a height of over 12,000 feet in Bolivia’s altiplano mountain region, the saltwater lake covered a surface area of over 750 square miles just two decades ago.

The shrivelling lake ecosystems has caused a mass die of millions of animals, according to research, and some 200 species of birds, mammals, fish, and other animals have disappeared from the area, including the endangered flamingo, Bolivia’s La Razon reported.

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Changes in water levels in Lake Poopo, shown by satellite imagery (http://bit.ly/23dy2l2)

Scientists are trying to figure out what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. Climate change is one, as scientists at Oruro Technical University say temperatures in the region have risen about 0.9 degrees Celsius over the past two decades, enhancing the rate of evaporation from the lake upwards of three times what it used to be. Another card of the deck stacked against Lake Poopó was El Niño. The Pacific Ocean weather phenomenon has gotten much more common with rising global temperatures.

While local NGOs have worked to aid the communities that have depended on the lake for survival, including the construction of well systems and the creation of a clay exportation business, most have been forced to migrate, Reuters reported. One case in account is of local fisherman Calle Rojas and his five children. He is thinking of making the same decision as has been made by roughly two thirds of his community of some 500 families — picking up and moving to a new city in Bolivia, Argentina or Chile.

Adapted from here

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