Farewell to Lake Poopó. Bolivia’s second largest lake has dried up

The demise of Lake Poopó is attributable to climate change, pollution, and a wrong management of its waters, scientists say.

Lake Poopó, Bolivia’s second largest lake behind Lake Titicaca located at an altitude of 3,686 metres, was once home to endemic fish, bird and plant species, and provided people with their livelihoods. Today, it is completely dry.


Non c'è più vita nel lago Poopó
Bird carcass on the dried surface of Lake Poopó © David Mercado/Reuters


Fish and birds carcasses are the silent demonstration of the ancient beauty of the area, now turned into an arid desert. Lake Poopó was officially declared evaporated in December by Victor Hugo Vásquez, Governor of the Oruro Department, the Andean plateau between Bolivia and Peru that was home to the basin. Actually, it’s not the first time that the lake dries up: its extension has always been variable, being subordinated to levels of Desaguadero River.


However, according to scientists, the lake is not going to recover this time. “This is a picture of the future of climate change,” sadly said Dirk Hoffman, German glaciologist who studies the relationship between rising temperature due to fossil fuels and melting ice in Bolivia.


However, the evident average global temperature rise doesn’t seem to be the only cause of Lake Poopó demise. Indeed, experts also suggest the chronic drought derived from El Niño meteorological phenomenon, as well as the excessive man-related impacts.

The lake was in fact subject to an intensive exploitation: its tributaries’ waters were used for the irrigation of neighbouring countries’ lands, whilst Poopó was irreparably polluted by mining companies operating in the regions of Oruro and Potosì. Poopó waters have been thus contaminated by highly polluting substances, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and zinc.


Una foto pubblicata da LifeGate (@lifegate) in data:


The over 100 families that lived in the village of Untavi, on the lake’s shores, were forced to sell sheep, llamas and alpacas and leave the area, now populated by elderly people only. “There’s no future here,” said 29-year-old Giovenale Gutierrez who moved to a nearby town, to The Guardian.


Angel Flores, head of a local citizens’ group that tried to save Poopó, said that government ignored warnings. “Something could have been done to prevent the disaster. Mining companies have been diverting and polluting water since 1982”.



Barche nel lago Poopó
Barche ribaltate su quel che rimane del lago Poopó © Juan Karita/AP


In hopes of saving the lake, Boliva’s government asked the European Union 140 million dollars to use on plants for the treatment of waste water and for dredging tributaries.

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