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.

Eco-Sustainable Communities: A Talk at Duke University


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