Bolivia’s Lake Poopó is officially no longer a lake. What was once the landlocked country’s second-largest body of water is now a barren, cracked landscape stretching more than 2,000 square kilometers. Just a few pockets of water, none more than 30 centimeters deep, are all that’s left.
Poopó, which is in western Bolivia in a big mining area within the Altiplano mountains, was officially declared dried up last month. The lake, the second in size to Lake Titicaca, only has about 2 percent of its water left, reports the AP. Scientists say its disappearance was both hastened by man — diversions in the water flow for mining and other industrial and agricultural projects — and a consequence of larger climate-change disturbances in the region, including drought from a persistent El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. Even before the lake disappeared, it was an environmental disaster, polluted with heavy metals thanks to area mines.
Between pollution and evaporation, more than 200 species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and plants may have been decimated or forced to find new habitats. But the sea and plant life, unable to relocate, has shriveled up with the lake.
Thousands also depended on lake Poopó for their livelihood, including, at one point, more than 2,000 people who relied on the fish from the lake. Many are leaving, with more than 70 families moving from lakeside towns in December, reported the Bolivian paper La Razón. The fisherman who stay must find other work. The government has doled out aid to more than 3,000 people who remain.
The Bolivian government has solicited aid, from the European Union and the United States, to try to restore Poopó — though much of the United States’ contributions will go toward humanitarian and food aid for the families affected. But past actions taken by the Bolivian government have been insufficient to stop or slow the disappearance of Poopó.