Bolivia’s Second-Largest Lake Is Now a Wasteland

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Aerial view of Lake Poopó last month.Photo: Javier Mamani/LatinContent/Getty Images

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. 

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In January, a fisherman walks along the abandoned boats in the dried-up Lake Poopó.Photo: Juan Karita/AP/Corbis
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A boat of a fisherman is seen on the dried Poopó lake bed.Photo: David Mercado/Reuters/Corbis

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.

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The carcass of a bird in Lake Poopó, December 2015.Photo: David Mercado/Reuters/Corbis

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. 

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A fisherman holds a fish carcass taken from the dried Poopó lake bed in December.Photo: David Mercado/Reuters/Corbis

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.

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A fisherman walks to his job as bricklayer near the shores of Lake Poopó, Bolivia. Photo: Juan Karita/AP/Corbis

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.

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Fisherman Rene Valero, from the Urus ethnic group, is seen on his boat on the dried Poopó lake bed in December.Photo: David Mercado/Reuters/Corbis