La Paz adapts to a world without water

Photograph by Christina Holmes

High and dry
When the glaciers that fed La Paz, Bolivia, its water vanished, citizens woke to dry taps, civil unrest—and a Water General’s reign.

The city is high and dry after losing its glaciers
By Leslie Kaufman February 21, 2017

The early-morning sunshine, sharp and unfiltered in the high Andean altitude, flashes off the Water General’s sunglasses. He poses next to a 2,500-gallon tank that his troops placed behind this market of stalls in La Paz, Bolivia. The women who sell here—short, stout, and dressed in the multitiered skirts favored by many of the indigenous—line up with garlands of yellow flowers. The Water General bends so they may sprinkle petals on his head. A crowd of media, assigned to the event, duly take note.

Suddenly a man breaks through the crowd. He screams at the general and the Water Minister, Alexandra Moreira, standing at his side. “It is not enough. You are disrespecting the people!” the man yells. As the general’s troops drag the man out by his arms, he adds, “It’s the truth.” Moreira, in her skinny jeans and a navy-print blouse and suddenly looking far too young for such a weighty position, winces.

At nearly 12,000 feet in altitude, La Paz sits in a zone—the high tropics—suffering the effects of climate change quicker than the rest of us. The glaciers that once fed the city are in retreat; the seasonal rains that should replenish the reservoirs from November through February are increasingly unreliable. In early November, the federal government declared a state of emergency. Overnight, officials cut water to 94 of the city’s neighborhoods, leaving about half of its roughly 800,000 residents caught completely off-guard.

On television, the government promised to turn the taps back on in a day or so. But when the water did not return as promised, hundreds of people protested. They commandeered the cisternas, the tanker trucks brought in to distribute the dwindling water supplies street by street. In one instance, angry citizens questioned local water officials for several hours at a rowdy meeting, refusing to let them leave. That’s when the federal government sent in the Water General, aka Brig. General Mario Enrique Peinado Salas, to suppress unrest and enforce a rationing system.

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Bolivia’s Disappearing Lake

photo by Linda FarthingLake Poopó's dry lakebed. The lake dried up almost completely in December 2015

by Linda Farthing – February 1, 2017

As Lake Poopó vanishes, depleted by water diversions and warming temperatures, it leaves behind an uncertain future for Indigenous Urus

Battered by the blinding sun that reigns supreme in Bolivia’s arid high plain, Urus-Muratos villagers from three Lake Poopó communities waited impatiently. In an otherwise soundless sky, a helicopter’s approach galvanized the morning crowd into a flurry of activity. Indigenous President Evo Morales, who grew up close to the lake’s western edge, stepped out of the chopper onto the remains of the salty lake, which almost completely dried up in late 2015 and has yet to recover. Dozens of Urus and fisherman from the same ethnic group as Morales, the Aymara, rushed to greet him.

Evo Morales came here to inaugurate 14 new houses in the Urus community of Puñaka Tinta Maria that were built by the government’s housing agency. Each one is rounded like a traditional Urus home, with two bedrooms, indoor plumbing, and water taps.

The Urus did their traditional Dance of the Fish for the President with huge fish and birds constructed from local lake reeds called tortora, the men dressed in black and white stripped ponchos and rough handspun wool pants, the women in wide skirts and tight blouses The towering puppets displayed an inevitable nod to the increasingly present modern world: all the creatures were given old CDs for eyes.  

None of the national and regional government officials present made any mention of the dusty residue of the lake just half a mile away. Only Urus leader Evarista Flores beseeched the audience to remember that “We who lived in the lake are the ones who most need our lake back.” Abandoned boats dotted the lake’s edges, reminders that many of those who once depended on the lake have fled to make a living elsewhere.

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Prepared for the worst’: Bolivians face historic drought, and global warming could intensify it

Bolivia's worst drought in 25 years is affecting large regions of the country. Some residents are only receiving water three days a week, while many collect rain water to offset their dwindling water rations. (Reuters)

Sustainable Eco-Communities: What if the Present looked at the Past to build the Future?

La Paz, Bolivia Partners of the Americas chapter environmental chair Ursula Bustillos-Daza was able to give a talk to the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment about creating sustainable eco-communities with indigenous people who are endangered by modernity. An excerpt from her talk is below:

“Sustainable Eco-Communities: What if the Present looked at the Past to build the Future?”

The excessive and uncontrollable global mass production has led mankind to an insatiable consumerism, which in turn has become an important link in the contamination chain of Mother Earth. This environmental degradation has also a dramatic presence in urban areas where its size is directly correlated to the size of the area. Mankind has poisoned, damaged, and polluted our planet profoundly, putting in grave danger the fragile balance of our ecosystems and, consequently, the continuity of life itself. Now we must imperatively shift our gaze back at our ancestors’ wisdom and return onto the path of nature. We must find the appropriate eco-technologies that operate under the principle of sustainability for the benefit of future generations and Earth itself.

A " Sustainable Eco - Community " is an existing small human settlement, where the respect of the social organization and the valorization of the ancestral knowledge are fully integrated with the opposite force of eco-technologies whilst projecting its sustainable lifestyle into the future. The tourist community, Quilima, a.k.a Sleeping Dragon, lies on the shores of Lake Titicaca - Bolivia at 12,467 feet above sea level. It is located in the municipality of Carabuco at about 96 miles from the city of La Paz. This mystical and energetic place is what motivated us to interrelate with the community, its natural environment as well as the whole landscape.


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