Climate Change Has Left Bolivia Crippled by Drought

“Bolivians have to be prepared for the worst.”President Evo Morales.

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Like many countries, Bolivia relies on its glaciers and large lakes to supply water during the lean, dry times. But as Bolivia has heated with the rest of the world, those key stores of frozen and liquid water have dwindled and dried up. Warming has turned the country’s second largest lake into a parched bed of hardening soil. This heat has made the country’s largest lake a shadow of its former expanse and depth. It has forced Bolivia’s glaciers into a full retreat up the tips of its northern mountains — reducing the key Chacaltaya glacier to naught. Multiple reservoirs are now bone-dry. And, for hundreds of thousands of people, the only source of drinking water is from trucked-in shipments.

Drought Emergency Declared for Bolivia

After decades of worsening drought and following a strong 2014-2016 El Nino, Bolivia has declared a state of emergency. 125,000 families are under severe water rationing — receiving supplies only once every three days. The water allocation for these families is only enough for drinking. No more. Hundreds of thousands beyond this hardest hit group also suffer from some form of water curtailment. Schools have been closed. Businesses shut down. 60,000 cattle have perished. 149 million dollars in damages have racked up. And across the country, protests have broken out.

The city of La Paz, which is the seat of Bolivia’s government and home to about 800,000 people (circa 2001) has seen its three reservoirs almost completely dry up. The primary water reservior — Ajuan Kota — is at just 1 percent capacity. Two smaller reserviors stand at just 8 percent.

bolivia-drought

(Over the past year, drought in Bolivia has become extreme — sparking declarations of emergency and resulting in water rationing. It is the most recent severe dry period of many to affect the state over the past few decades. President Morales has stated that climate change is the cause. And the science, in large part, agrees with him. Image source: The Global Drought Monitor.)

In nearby El Alto, a city of 650,000 people (circa 2001), residents are also suffering from water shortages. The lack there has spurred unrest — with water officials briefly being held hostage by desperate citizens.

As emergency relief tankers wind through the streets and neighborhoods of La Paz and El Alto, the government has established an emergency water cabinet. Plans to build a more resilient system have been laid. And foreign governments and companies have been asked for assistance. But Bolivia’s larger problem stems from droughts that have been made worse and worse by climate change. And it’s unclear whether new infrastructure to manage water can deal with a situation that increasingly removes the water altogether.

Dried out Lakes, Dwindling Glaciers

Over the years, worsening factors related to climate change have made Bolivia vulnerable to any dry period that may come along. The added effect of warming is that more rain has to fall to make up for the resulting increased rate of evaporation. Meanwhile, glacial retreat means that less water melts and flows into streams and lakes during these hot, dry periods. In the end, this combined water loss creates a situation of drought prevalence for the state. And when a dry period is set off by other climate features — as happened with the strong El Nino that occurred during 2014 to 2016 — droughts in Bolivia become considerably more intense.

Ever since the late 1980s, Bolivia has been struggling through abnormal dry periods related to human caused climate change. Over time, these dry periods inflicted increasing water stress on the state. And despite numerous efforts on the part of Bolivia, the drought impacts have continued to worsen.

bolivia-satellite

(In this NASA satellite shot of northern Bolivia taken on November 6, 2016, we find very thin mountain snow and ice cover in upper center, a lake Titicaca that is both now very low and filled with sand bars at upper left, and a completely dried up lake Poopo at bottom-center. Bolivia relies on these three sources of water. One is gone, and two more have been greatly diminished. Scientists have found that global warming is melting Bolivia’s glaciers and has increased evaporation rates by as much as 200 percent near its key lakes. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

By 1994, added heat and loss of glaciers resulted in the country’s second largest lake — Poopo — drying up. The lake recovered somewhat in the late 1990s. But by early 2016, a lake that once measured 90 x 32 kilometers at its widest points had again been reduced to little more than a cracked bed littered with abandoned fishing hulls. Scientists researching the region found that the rate of evaporation in the area of lake Poopo had been increased by 200 percent by global warming.

Bolivia’s largest lake — Titicaca — is also under threat. From 2003 to 2010, the lake is reported to have lost 500 square miles of surface water area. During 2015 and 2016 drought near Titicaca intensified. In an act of desperation, the government of Bolivia allocated half a billion dollars to save the lake. But despite this move, the massive reservoir has continued to shrink. Now, the southern section of the lake is almost completely cut off by a sand bar from the north.

In the Andean mountains bordering Bolivia, temperatures have been increasing by 0.6 degrees Celsius each decade. This warming has forced the country’s glaciers into full retreat. In one example, the Chacaltaya glacier, which provided 30 percent of La Paz’s water supply, had disappeared entirely by 2009. But the losses to glaciers overall have been widespread and considerable — not just isolated to Chacaltaya.

Intense Drought Flares, With More to Come

By December, rains are expected to return and provide some relief for Bolivia. El Nino has faded and 2017 shouldn’t be as dry as 2015 or 2016. However, like many regions around the world, the Bolivian highlands are in a multi-year period of drought. And the over-riding factor causing these droughts is not the periodic El Nino, but the longer-term trend of warming that is melting Bolivia’s glaciers and increasing rates of evaporation across its lakes.

In context, the current drought emergency has taken place as global temperatures hit near 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages. Current and expected future burning of fossil fuels will continue to warm the Earth and add worsening drought stress to places like Bolivia. So this particular emergency water shortage is likely to be just one of many to come. And only an intense effort to reduce fossil fuel emissions can substantially slake the worsening situation for Bolivia and for numerous other drought-affected regions around the world.

Links:

Bolivia Declares National Emergency Amid Drought

Bolivia Schools Close Early as Drought Empties Reservoirs

Is the World Running out of Water? Bolivia Declares National Emergency Due to Drought

Hothouse Turns Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake into Withered Wasteland

The Global Drought Monitor

LANCE MODIS

Climate Hot Map — Chacaltaya Glacier

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to ClimateHawk1

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Climate Change Drives Half a Billion People to Suffer Hunger, Water Shortages as Droughts and Heatwaves Wreck Crops Across the Globe

At least 12 Indian states are believed to be facing famine and experts have warned that the water crisis could worsen if urgent action is not taken. — Greenpeace statement taken yesterday by The International Business Times.

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A human-forced warming of the globe is a trigger for increasingly severe droughts, water shortages, food shortages, and heatwaves intense enough to cause mass casualties. As global temperatures during 2015 and 2016 have risen to more than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial readings, we’ve seen more and more reports coming in of these kinds of climate-change driven disruptions.

A new study out this week from the European Commission has found that 240 million people across the world are now suffering from food stress. With Greenpeace now warning that 330 million people in India alone are faced with water shortages and threat of famine, and with millions more coming under both food and water stress in Vietnam as a record Southeast Asian heatwave ramps up to never-before-seen extreme temperatures — it appears now that more than half a billion people around the world are dealing with a climate change driven food and water crisis.

It’s a growing global crisis that has now come to affect more than 45 nations. One that has put at least 80 million of those now suffering from hunger at a food stress level just one step below famine. One whose primary trigger appears to be widespread and expanding drought and extreme weather due to global temperatures hitting new all-time record highs.

Food stress map

(Despite what is probably the best global system ever devised to prevent and reduce hunger, the European Commission now finds that 240 million people are at risk of food stress. A number that is likely incomplete as a newly emerging heatwave in Southeast Asia is drying up food and water supplies for millions. Image source: The European Commission.)

It’s a situation that international agencies appear to be scrambling to keep track of. For with each passing week there appears to be new information about another country falling under food and water stress or of one already affected seeing conditions among strained populaces worsen.

Hunger Expanding Across The Globe

In the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world, nations are particularly vulnerable to the stress of rising temperatures. There, soil moisture is already tenuous in many regions. As temperatures rise, rates of evaporation increase and marginal areas can rapidly fall into drought. In addition, many regions reliant on glacier and snow melt to provide water during summer are seeing mountain snows vanish and high elevation glaciers dwindle away as consistently above freezing temperatures invade further and further into the higher elevations.

Across Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia, The Middle East, and Central America this story has been writ large as new climate change driven heat and dryness appears to have hit a tipping point this year. Severe heatwaves, droughts, and dwindling rivers are setting off intense hunger crises in North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Central Africa, and Nigeria — countries that now each host more than 10 million people under acute food stress. These are grim figures. But the numbers, in many cases, fail to tell the whole story of how dire the situation has actually become.

In North Korea, for example, officials there are warning of another Arduous March — a period of famine during the late 1990s and coinciding with droughts and rising global temperatures that killed more than 3.5 million in that country. Aid to North Korea during the 2000s alleviated some of the endemic hunger. But by the then record warm year of 2010 the droughts had re-emerged, and reports of hunger, stunted growth among children, and famine had again cropped up. In 2015, amidst global temperatures that had risen still higher, North Korea experienced its worst drought in at least 100 years. By as early as March, drought and heat had once-more settled in over a broad swath of Asia. And late last month, the state-run news agency Rodong Sinmun issued the following statement alluding to a rising risk of famine conditions in the country:

We may have to go on an arduous march, during which we will have to chew the roots of plants once again.

India Drought Baked and Bleached Riverbeds

(A hothouse created by ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions has set off droughts and heatwaves around the world leaving riverbeds and farmlands baked and bleached. Image source: India Water Portal.)

More than a score of other nations now see between 1-10 million people in their countries facing hunger. Places like Cambodia, Madagascar, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela, Libya, Haiti, New Guinea, Chad, Mali, Somalia, and Zamibia. Earlier this week, the situation became very acute for Somalia as a group of 23 NGOs warned that the country was at high risk of falling into famine. There, water shortages, food shortages and livestock deaths have grown more and more widespread. Ever-deepening drought has pushed crops to fail and food prices to sky-rocket. An ongoing growing season disruption that has now pushed hundreds of thousands of people into hunger.

In Cambodia, a country suffering from a severe southeast Asian drought and heatwave that has left much of the region reeling, the EC identifies up to 5 million people threatened by hunger. Heat and drought there are now so severe that farmers cannot grow traditional crops. A local farmer describes the increasingly dire situation:

“Before it was not difficult, but now due to frequent drought even bananas don’t grow and other vegetables that we normally grow here are not doing well, not enough to eat. We cannot grow all the vegetables we need so sometimes I collect food from neighbours.”

A number of nations suffering from climate change related extreme weather events now triggering additional food and water stress are not currently listed in the recent EC report. Countries like India and Vietnam, which are both now confronting record drought, heat related mass casualties, heatwaves, water shortages, farmer suicides and crop losses. The severe drought and food shortage situation in Vietnam has come on with particular speed and intensity as local officials identified more than two million people at risk of hunger there just this week:

Vietnam is in urgent need of international aid worth US$48.5 million as a crippling drought threatens to create a shortage of food and water for two million people. Officials from the country’s agriculture ministry and the United Nations estimated at a meeting Tuesday that at least two million people in southern and central Vietnam lack clean water, with 1.1 million also in need of food support.

Record Asian Heatwave

(One of the most severe heatwaves on record settled in over Southeast Asia during April. The event has already killed 150 people due to heat alone in India — there sparking off such a severe water shortage that relief trains now move from town to town — providing people with emergency supplies as local wells and rivers dry up. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the severe heat has already lead to crop failures so widespread that millions are at risk of hunger. Image source: NASA and Voice of America.)

But perhaps hardest hit of all is India. There, so many towns have lost access to river or well water that a train filled with millions of gallons of the life-giving liquid now winds its way across India — providing people there with a water ration of between 4 and 10 liters per day meant to meet all daily drinking and bathing needs. Greenpeace has identified more than 330 million people who are now facing water shortages across the highly populated country. And according to that NGO 12 Indian states will face famine unless swift government action to alleviate the crisis takes place.

Indian officials have pinned hopes for refreshed water supplies on the Asian Monsoon which is scheduled to arrive by mid-to-late June. However, the human-driven warming of the globe has a tendency to reduce the amount of rainfall the annual Indian Monsoon provides. A fact hinted at in a recent statement to International Business Times by Greenpeace’s Ishteyaque Ahmad:

“Those who say that one or a few consecutive good monsoons will change the situation are either ignorant or are trying to hide the truth, which is very frightening. In fact, we are dehydrating our earth’s system by choice and not out of ignorance.”

Record High Global Temperatures as a Trigger

It is difficult to overstate the severity of droughts and heatwaves affecting many of these regions. For record-shattering high temperatures and moisture loss has been impacting these sections of the globe all throughout the 2015-2016 period. During this time, global temperatures have risen to never-before-seen levels. It’s a record spike of global heat that has been driven on by human-forced climate change. By levels of the heat trapping gas — carbon dioxide — rising to marks well above 405 parts per million this year. At the same time, El Nino has caused that heat to build up over the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world. Serving as a kind of human-forced warming amplifier for drought, heat, and water stress in these regions.

For the Summer of 2016, following one of the strongest El Ninos on record and entering a period when the world has never experienced such amazingly high global temperatures, the level of disruption is likely to be extraordinarily severe. Record heat will pull more moisture from soils and rivers than ever before, will take down the mountain snows that still exist faster than ever before, will dwindle the remaining glaciers to the lowest levels yet seen. In addition, consistent warm air invasions into the Arctic will tend to create high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — setting up zones where droughts and heatwaves are further enhanced. So the crisis period for the Summer of 2016 has just begun.

In this context the expected onset of La Nina later in the year is far off. And though it may provide relief for some areas, this relief will be somewhat withdrawn by the climate change driven warming that is already in place and continues to steadily worsen. In addition, regions that tend to see dryness due to La Nina may see drought conditions further enhanced by the ongoing global heat build-up — places like California that should probably not let its guard down following a notably weak moisture flow off the record strong El Nino this past Winter.

Links:

Famine Early Warning System

The European Commission Report on Global Hunger

India Drought — Greenpeace Issues SOS, Famine Warnings

NASA GISS

Extreme Weather, Armed Conflict Affects Millions

NGOs Issue Famine Warning for Somalia

Vietnam Drought Threatens Millions

Punishing Heatwave Sets off Temperature Records Across Asia

India Water Portal

North Korean’s Arduous March

North Korea Experiences Worst Drought in at Least 100 Years

Chef Arrives in Cambodia to Draw Attention to Climate Change

The Keeling Curve

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to DT Lange

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