Bolivia's Lake Poopó, formerly the second largest in the country, has completely dried up for reasons connected to climate change, mining pollution and the escalation of El Niño and El Niña weather systems. The area has been declared a disaster zone by the Bolivian government, but many are concerned that not enough action has been taken in order to make the area ecologically sustainable again.
In the Oruro Department, south of La Paz, the saline lake was situated at over 12,000 feet in the Andean altiplano. The desertification of Poopó has occurred over the course of the past 60 years, according to CBC News. During this time, regional temperatures have risen by 0.9 degrees Celsius, explained agricultural engineer Milton Perez, who works at the Oruro Technical University. As a result, water evaporates up to three times faster between rains.
Additionally, changing climate patterns have impacted the vital El Niño phenomenon, a warm phase via the Pacific Ocean that can cause heavy rainfalls in some parts of the world and droughts in others, which used to occur once every ten years. Due to the effects of global warming, it now happens every three years, according to The Globe and Mail. This "is not sufficient for the lake to recover," Perez explained, "and it's only going to get worse."
While local NGOs have worked to aid the communities that have depended on the lake for survival, including the construction of well systems and the creation of a clay exportation business, most have been forced to migrate, Reuters reported. Studies show that regional animals have also died off in the millions.
Milton Perez and Valerio Rojas, a leader of the local indigenous Untavi community, described Lake Poopó during an inspection lastk week as "a lake without life," The Latin American Herald Tribune reported. Rojas added that the lake has also dried up in the past, but has always managed to recuperate itself. With long-term environmental change, however, and the impact of heavy regional mining operations, there is less hope for the lake's original 3,088 square mile surface area to be regenerated.