By Olivia Berntsson, theowp.org:
Bolivia’s Tuni glacier has shrunk rapidly over the past decade, now putting the nation’s capital city in a critical water shortage. Located in the heart of South America, the landlocked country experiences low rainfall and regular droughts. The 800,000 citizens of La Paz have depended on water from the glaciers of the Andes Mountains for centuries, but now face an alarming reality. Global warming has had a considerable impact on the quickly decreasing Tuni glacier, and the fast-changing climate has evidently accelerated the process. It was previously predicted that the ice-capped mountains would last until 2025, an analysis which no longer represents reality.
Reuters has reported how the glacier is disappearing much faster than what was originally predicted. Scientists from the Universidad Mayor de San Andres, which oversees changes in Bolivia’s glaciers, announced that Tuni has now diminished to just one square kilometer. Residents living along the base of the Andes do not fully depend on freshwater from the glaciers, although it is believed that at least 20% of consumed water comes from the mountains. Glacier scientist Dr. Edgar Ramirez pointed out that while Bolivians are well-aware of the effects of climate change within their region, such an issue as this is only the beginning. The population growth of La Paz is about 2.5% per year, and the nearby city El Alto, which also relies upon the Tuni for water, has a growth of nearly 5% per year. With freshwater supplies decreasing and the population increasing, and the water demand is much higher than what can be supplied.
The situation has drastically worsened in the past 10 years, as people have suffered in numerous ways from shrinking water levels in local lakes and rivers. The ice not only provides water to essential rivers used for crops and agriculture, but also supports power generation and the natural ecosystem. The consequences of Tuni’s shrinkage will be particularly noticeable during the dry season when glacial water is critical for access in urban areas. To maintain the water systems in La Paz, it is necessary to adapt to climate change where recycling methods play an extensive role. However, the most significant part will be to discover new ways of reducing water consumption. Industries and commercial enterprises are overall the largest consumers, likewise, the recklessness of some wealthy domestic consumers adds to the crisis. The costs and potential range of further impacts make it unattainable for Bolivia to rely on new resources for water. Therefore, the next step for the country should be to arrange and implement water management strategies to better accommodate unpredictable climate conditions.
The Guardian noted that water demand in El Alto had exceeded its supply in 2009. Additionally, the city’s population grew by at least 30% between 2001 and 2012, and the land area rapidly expanded by 144% during the last decade. Only seven years later, the government was forced to declare a state of emergency upon encountering its worst drought in over 25 years. It was reported that three main dams supplying water to La Paz and El Alto were no longer fed by Andean glaciers and had practically run dry. Armed forces were brought in to distribute water to the cities, emergency wells were drilled, and schools temporarily closed. Melting glaciers are a familiar subject, and yet, the previous warnings have not been enough to strive for drastic policy change.
In conclusion, global warming is a major consequence of unsustainable consumption, not only in Bolivia but in all parts of the world. Leadership from countries with the highest consumption of natural resources, particularly water, should have acted many years ago by acknowledging and spreading information about its damaging reality. Bolivia will soon be struggling with one of the most fundamental aspects of human rights; the right to water and adequate sanitation. Recognizing this problem’s urgency and encouraging the public to take action will support efforts to foster secure and sustainable communities. If not addressed immediately, conflict regarding the environment of La Paz could emerge rapidly, which must be avoided at all costs. Ultimately, this crisis will require regional and international cooperation to find efficient and peaceful solutions for ensuring water security.