Bolivian Lake Dries Up, El Niño to Blame
By Alexander Stringer
Over the course of human history, magicians have dazzled audiences with increasingly grandiose tricks, yet it would seem that nature has found a way to top the best magic-men by making Lake Poopó, Bolivia’s second largest lake, disappear officially on December 17, with scientists pinning the cause on several differing factors.
While this lake has dried up before in the 1994, it was quickly able to return to normal. This time the predictions are not as favorable–due to climate change, the glaciers of the Andes, which feed the lake, have themselves disappeared. The faster fossil fuels are being burned, it is argued, the less likely a rebound is to happen, as water simply cannot stem from enough sources.
There is another phenomenon that has a hand in snatching the lake: El Niño developing in the Pacific. El Niño, essentially a development of unseasonably warm air off the western coast of the Americas, has led to a severe drought in the nation, putting an even greater strain on an already draining lake.
Additionally, a lack of drainage to feed agricultural and mining operations nearby contributes to the problem. As industries have grown larger—consuming more water in the process—the lake needs to be replenished more rapidly. Moreover, both of these industries have become paralyzed, unable to work anywhere near full capacity without the resource, leading to major economic ripples in the region.
Environmental and humanitarian tolls have been the effects of this phenomenon. The government “declared the area a ‘disaster zone” in 2014 in an effort to keep the lake from total evaporation, but to no avail. Now, only a few scavenger birds and insects can be seen surviving on the rotting carcasses of millions of fish and other aquatic life, according to some estimates, and some 75 different bird species are now gone from the lake as well.
Another effect is a humanitarian crisis, as locals have now found their way of life, traditionally dependent on fishing in Lake Poopo, nonexistent. The area becomes more barren as locals search elsewhere for livelihood, selling their livestock and possessions before leaving.
The Bolivian government has asked for approximately $140 million in aid to be able to take measures to rebuild the Poopo watershed, but most critics are saying that it is far too late to save the lake. The only hope left for those that remain stuck on the former banks is that the La Niña, the cold phase in the El Niño cycle, will bring exceptional amounts of rain to start to refill the basin.