Magazine article Geographical

Dry Me a River

Magazine article Geographical

Dry Me a River

Article excerpt

Lake Poopo in Bolivia, has rapidly dried up, decimating local communities. Where did the water go, and will it ever return?

The strong 2015/16 El Nino phenomenon--now breaking records for highest average sea surface temperatures ever recorded in the Pacific--has had dramatic effects around the world, including severe drought across South and East Africa, as well as Australia and Southeast Asia. But there can be few clearer visualisations of its influence than the current state of Lake Poopo, one of South America's largest salt-water lakes, located high up in the Bolivian Andes. Recognised as one of Bolivia's eleven RAMSAR sites, Lake Poopo is normally abundant with endangered and endemic wildlife, supporting thousands of flamingos and other migratory birds, as well as two pre-Hispanic cultures, the Aymaras and the Urus. However, the lake bed is currently completely dry.

The recent El Nino has replaced the region's three-month wet season--which should have started in December--with a long, persistent drought. Several major Bolivian cities have recorded record temperatures for the time of year, including 26.5[degrees]C in the capital La Paz, way above the city's 17[degrees]C average.

Satellite images from NASA show how, as recently as three years ago Lake Poopo covered an area of 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 square miles). But, with seasonal rains unable to replenish it, the lake has now disappeared entirely, rendering local people's fishing boats --their central source of income--completely useless. …

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