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Study points to catastrophic drought in Bolivia

posted 26 Nov 2010, 10:22 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 26 Nov 2010, 10:26 ]

According to a new study by climatologists, Bolivia will be overwhelmed by a catastrophic drought within fifty years. They say Lake Titicaca which sustains the capital La Paz, is drying up at an alarming pace putting millions of lives at risk. Bolivia's plight will be at at the forefront of discussions at next week's climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico.

BOLIVIA/USA-CLIMATE CRISIS - For thousands of year, the waters of lake Titicaca, South America's largest lake, have sustained and nurtured millions of people. Today, however, the water is running out.

Scientists say climate change has come to the lake with a particular severity. The latest study, conducted by a team led by the Florida Institute of Technology's Mark Bush, paints a bleak picture.

 MARK BUSH, CLIMATOLOGIST AT THE FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING:

"When this lake basically goes away suddenly the area there becomes a desert. And so this could happen, we think, within the next 50 years."

The team investigated a 370,000-year record of climate and vegetation change in Andean ecosystems. The study began in 2001 when scientists drilled into the deepest parts of the lake to retrieve fossilized pollen trapped in the sediments.

Bush found that during two of the last three interglacial periods, Lake Titicaca shrank by as much as 85 percent. Adjacent grasslands were replaced by desert.

The results of the study point to similar scenario. Farmer Luis Quispe Mamani say it has already started. His family has been farming the land on the shores of Lake Titicaca for more generations than he can remember. He fears his generation may be the last.

FARMER, LUIS QUISPE MAMANI, SAYING:

"Before it was different. There was water everywhere. Not now. Everything is drying up. Before there was ice on the mountain range, but now it's dry like any other hill. Before everything was white. Now, there is nothing."

According to the study, if temperatures rise more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above those of modern times, parts of Peru and Bolivia will become deserts.

 MARK BUSH, CLIMATOLOGIST AT THE FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING:

"In the past what has happened is as conditions have warmed up so the lake has suddenly started to contract and as the lake contracts it stops providing rainfall and a sort of warmer climate to the great plains that surround the lake which is now very important to agriculture."

For the two million inhabitants of La Paz, Bolivia's capital, such a change would be disastrous, leaving the worst drought in modern history.

Fatima Choque, a resident of nearby El Alto, believed the drought has already arrived. She says with limited water supplies, life is a struggle.

 RESIDENT, FATIMA CHOQUE, SAYING:

"As we don't have water, we take a bath once a week. When we receive more water here, it's a miracle. The problem is that children get their clothes dirty everyday. I have just finished washing some clothes."

According to Bush, this is just the beginning. The next fifty years he says, will see a much faster deterioration.

MARK BUSH, CLIMATOLOGIST AT THE FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING:

"The lake itself when it falls, it will become salt and so even though there is a large lake there it will be useless for irrigation or for drawing water for any human needs. And then lastly, that area of the Andes relies very heavily on hydro-electric power and so with all this loss of surface water there just won't be hydropower there anymore."

La Paz governor, Cesar Cocarico, says he fears for his community. He says there is very little the government can do to protect the people. He blames industrialised countries for Bolivia's plight, and hopes they will come to the aid of La Paz.

GOVERNOR OF LA PAZ, CESAR COCARICO, SAYING:

"We are looking for life on other planets but we are not looking after ours. An infinity of things are threatening nature such as nuclear materials and out of control industrialization. They don't look after anything. All the efforts we make in this part of the world will not be sufficient if great industries, great countries don't contribute to the care of La Paz province."

Given an expected rate of warming in the Andes of about 0.3-0.5 degrees Celsius per decade, the tipping point ahead would be reached between 2040 and 2050.

Ben Gruber, Reuters.

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