Brown and barren land: Bolivia’s historic drought – in pictures

The Guardian reports:

Brown and barren land: Bolivia’s historic drought – in pictures

The Inkachaka, Ajunkota and Hampaturi dams supply drinking water to more than 30% of the population of La Paz. But the Inkachaka, pictured here, was operating at 5% of its capacity in November, and the Ajunkota at just 1%. Visiting the dam was surreal, says Perez: ‘It was like being on an isolated planet. I expected to see military or personnel from the water company, but the place was totally empty. It looked like a post-war zone or an abandoned mining area.’

The state of emergency was declared after more than half of Bolivia’s 339 municipalities declared their own emergencies related to the drought. The vice-ministry of civil defence estimated that the drought had affected 125,000 families and threatened 716,605 acres of agricultural land.

In rural areas, the drought sparked conflicts between miners and farmers over the use of aquifers. Bolivians staged protests in major cities, mirroring the demonstrations of the Cochabamba ‘water war’ in 2000. This time, protesters demanded that President Evo Morales remove Alexandra Moreira, the environment and water minister. Moreira resigned in January.

The combined impact of the El Niño weather cycle, poor water management and climate change helped cause the country’s worst drought in 25 years. Water rationing was used for the first time in La Paz, affecting 80,000 people.

The drought was also exacerbated by the rapid retreat of Bolivia’s glaciers, on which La Paz and El Alto rely for most of their drinking water. At the height of the drought, the three main dams supplying the two cities were not receiving runoff from glaciers, leaving them to almost run dry. Jim Miller, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, found that temperatures at altitudes such as El Alto’s – above 13,000 feet – have risen 75% faster than in lower regions over the past 20 years.

The Chacaltaya glacier – once the world’s highest ski resort – has already completely disappeared. The two Tuni-Condoriri glaciers that provide water to El Alto and La Paz lost 39% of their area between 1983 and 2006. Here, a rubber emergency channel drains water from a lagoon to ease water shortages.

Mountains that were once covered in snow now look brown and barren. At the beginning of 2017, the Bolivian government used a form of weather modification called cloud seeding to increase rainfall and alleviate the drought. The technology changes the amount or type of precipitation that falls, by dispersing substances (such as silver iodide, potassium iodide and solid carbon dioxide) into the air to condense clouds.

After three months of dry weather, the rainy season arrived in January with a much lower intensity than usual. For farmers, the rains provided water for planting, but at a time when crops should have been ready for harvest. The water level of the Inkachaka reservoir increased slightly, but the emergency situation continued.

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