Tribal community in Bolivia abandons homeland after lake dries up

Lake Poopó in Bolivia, as seen in 2006. Photo by Lovisa Selander

Members of a tribal community in Bolivia are being described as climate change refugees after the lake that provided them with food and medicine slowly disappeared.

The Uru-Muratos lived around Lake Poopó for thousands of years, depending on fish, birds and other animals and plants for sustenance. But almost all of them have abandoned their homeland in search of other opportunities.

“The lake was our mother and our father,” Adrián Quispe, a fisherman who has moved to another area, told The New York Times. “Without this lake, where do we go?”

The water that feeds the lake has long been diverted for mining and agricultural uses, which contributed to rising and falling levels over the years. But temperatures increased rapidly in the last couple of decades, causing what little water was left to evaporate, according to The Times.

A massive fish-kill in 2014 signaled the end of the lake. By the end of 2015, Poopó was essentially gone.

“It was enough to make you cry, seeing the fish swimming dizzy or dead,” Gabino Cepeda, a former fisherman who has turned to farming, told The Times. “But that was just the start. The flamingos are dead, the ducks are gone, everything else. We threw out our nets, there was nothing for us.”

The Uro-Muratos are a small community of about 750 families, according to The Financial Times. Some have gone to other areas in Bolivia but others have moved to Chile and Argentina in search of work and other opportunities, the paper said.

Lake Poopó was once considered to be the second-largest in Bolivia.

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Climate Change Claims a Lake, and a Way of Life (The New York Times 7/7)

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