Bolivia's Second Largest Lake Turning into a Salt Desert


LA PAZ – Bolivia's second largest lake, Poopo, in the Andine region of the country is turning into a desert as a result of climate change, El Niño and La Niña phenomena and mining pollution, researchers warned on Monday.

Agricultural engineer Milton Perez, from Oruro Technical University, and peasant leader Valerio Rojas told EFE during an inspection on Friday that Poopo today "is a lake without life."

Poopo is the largest lake after Titicaca, which Bolivia shares with Peru.

According to Perez, the lake ecosystem is very fragile, with a depth of only 1.5 to 4 meters (5 to 13 feet), and its waters have reduced due to various climate related phenomena including rise in temperature due to global warming and increased effects of El Niño and La Niña that are now felt in the highlands every two or three years instead of the usual seven or 10 years.

Lake Poopo had six or seven years of dynamic equilibrium, Perez said, adding he is not sure whether "there will be sufficient time to re-establish, in a natural manner, the ecosystem it used to be."

Oruro newspaper La Patria reported an aerial viewing of the site that revealed it had become a vast salt desert with no evidence of water and only cracked clay.

La Patria also reports the lake has a surface area of 4,600 square km (1,776 square miles), but currently there is very little water occupying it.

Lake Titicaca, which is situated at 3,800 meters of altitude (12,467 feet), has a surface area of 8,000 square km (3,088 square miles).

Rojas, a leader of the indigenous Untavi community in Toledo, where the population is significantly affected by the situation, said the lake has dried up many times in the past too, but has always managed to recover itself.

However, the peasants now fear Poopo will not recover its water due to rising temperatures in the highlands and hundreds of farmers and fishermen, who have suffered losses, are now abandoning the place.

"We have a lake that has disappeared, now it is a plain, it is a desert where you cannot plant anything, nor produce, nor is there anything, much less life," said Rojas.