LA PAZ – The government of the western Bolivian province of Oruro issued a declaration of natural disaster Saturday after learning that Lake Poopo, the second largest in the country after Titicaca and which once covered more than 4,600 sq. kilometers (1,780 sq. miles), has almost dried up.
Oruro Gov. Victor Hugo Vasquez enacted a law that declared it a natural disaster, which will speed up the acquisition and use of funds to somehow improve the disastrous situation, which also affects the economy of the inhabitants of eight municipalities in the area.
The disappearance of Lake Poopo, announced this week in the media, took Oruro authorities by surprise as it did the national government, which was unaware of the gravity of the situation.
The lake, high up in the Andes, is in the process of desertification due to climate change, the weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña, and mining pollution, which have combined to made it into “a lifeless lake,” agronomist Milton Perez of Oruro Technical University told EFE.
According to Perez, the ecosystem there is fragile and the lake very shallow – from 1.5 to 4 meters (5 to 13 feet) – and has suffered a loss of water due to successive climatic phenomena.
Poopo maintained its balance for six or seven years, but now “the lake won’t have enough time to reestablish itself in a natural way as the ecosystem it used to be,” he said.
The drying up of the lake has also banished some 200 species of wildlife including birds, mammals, fish and reptiles, the ornithologist and expert in fauna of the Andean lakes, Carlos Capriles, told the daily La Razon.
The lake, now reduced to three small wetlands, was once a resting place for the thousands of birds migrating from north to south, and also a source of water for threatened species like the Andean puma.
Fishing in its waters was one of the main sources of food for inhabitants of nearby villages.
The Bolivian government estimates that an investment of some 800 million bolivianos (some $114 million) would be necessary to save Lake Poopo.