Landlocked Bolivia, located in the Andean mountain heights of central South America, is heavily reliant upon glaciers for its drinking water. Water from glaciers also supports agriculture, generates power and nurtures the country’s natural ecosystems. However, those glaciers are now in danger.
Anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) has shrunk many of Bolivia’s glaciers to record-low coverage, forcing the country’s government to recently declare a state of emergency as it struggles to cope with the worst drought it has seen in more than a quarter of a century.
President Evo Morales has called on local governments around the country to steer funds and workers immediately toward drilling water wells and transporting available water into cities. He also ordered Bolivia’s armed forces to help in these efforts.
Bolivia’s Melting Glaciers
Recently published research showed that from 1986 to 2014, a time span of merely one human generation, Bolivia’s glaciers shrank by nearly 50 percent. For many of the country’s residents, that shrinking is a threat to survival. Approximately 2.3 million residents in the cities of La Paz and El Alto rely on glacial runoff and lakes to feed reservoirs for a significant percentage of their drinking water, particularly during the dry season.
The aforementioned study stated that nearly all of Bolivia’s glaciers will be either gone or severely diminished by the end of this century.
A recent study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) revealed that temperatures in Bolivia have risen by 0.5 C between the years 1976 and 2006. In recent years, the residents of La Paz and El Alto have been staring directly at evidence of ACD’s impact, in the form of the rapidly shrinking snowpack in the mountains that rise above their cities.
A glacier on Chacaltaya Mountain, which used to host the world’s highest ski resort above the city of El Alto, has already completely vanished.
The SEI report said that if regional ACD models that predict a 2C temperature increase by 2050 are correct, many of the small glaciers that provide the cities with their drinking water will completely disappear. Those that remain will shrink dramatically.
“Prepare for the Worst”
All of these problems are compounded by the fact that, like what is happening across most of the rest of the world, the populations of major cities are exploding due to economics.
El Alto, which is now home to more than a million people, grew by one third between 2001 and 2012. Coinciding with that, the city’s area expanded by more than 140 percent in just the last 10 years, due to urban sprawl. By 2050, only 34 years from now, the population of the city is expected to double.
When the national state of emergency was declared, more than half of Bolivia’s municipalities had already declared their own states of emergency due to the drought.
The drought had already fomented protests across Bolivia’s major cities, as well as conflicts between miners and farmers over the use of aquifers.
The three primary lakes that supply the two major cities with water, which are fed by glacial runoff, are now nearly completely dry, and water rationing affecting more than 100,000 families has been on-going in La Paz and El Alto.
President Evo Morales sacked the head of his country’s water company for not warning him earlier of the dangerous situation.
At a press conference earlier this week, Morales stated, “We have to be prepared for the worst.”