Monday, February 29, 2016

A Lake Disappears

Once the second largest lake in Bolivia, Lake Poopó is located in west-central Bolivia in the Altiplano mountain region at over 12,000 feet above sea level. Fed by mountain runoff from the Andes, the beautiful lake supported the region's fishing economy, especially for the several thousand people living in several nearby villages.

In December 2015, Lake Poopó was declared officially dried and is now considered a lakebed. Lakes dry up for numerous reasons: climate change, geological changes in the region, and human activities can all alter bodies of water. Tributaries change course over time and slowly stop feeding into a lake. Water is diverted by companies for industrial use. Mountain runoff diminishes and provides less water to keep the lake full. In the case of Lake Poopó, there appears to be a combination of factors.

The lake in April 2013 (left) and January 2016 (right)
The lake in April 2013 (left) and January 2016 (right), via

Regardless of the reasons, the loss of Lake Poopó changes the lives of the people who live in the region. Already struggling as the lake had diminished over the past decade, the nearby villages are losing inhabitants as many decide to leave and make a new life somewhere else.

The lake could return (as it did after drying up in 1994) but thousands of people are still being displaced, especially the families of fishermen who depended on the lake's resources for their livelihood.

Fisherman Rene Valero stands in his boat in the Poopó lakebed, via

The Poopó lakebed will become a new landmark over time, becoming a part of the Bolivian landscape just as the lake had been for so many decades. As the nearby families relocate and find new ways to survive, local NGOs are already assisting in various ways. Their work reminds us that even as circumstances and geography change, we must continue to help each other. It will take time, but with support and resources, displaced families can build new lives.

--Mackenzie Malia
AAVia Foundation Co-Founder & President

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