Fish skeletons, dead birds, and fishing boats sit abandoned on the desiccated stretch of land that was once the second-largest lake in Bolivia. Lake Poopó is now practically bone-dry, leaving species decimated and hundreds of people without jobs.
Officials cite a drought fueled by El Niño weather patterns as the primary culprit for the lake’s disappearance. Located in the semiarid Andean plains at 12,000 feet above sea level, the 977-square-mile lake has dried up and rebounded in the past. But this time, experts don’t believe it will recover.
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing the azure mirror of Poopó again,” Milton Perez, a Universidad Tecnica researcher, told the AP. “I think we’ve lost it.”
That’s because El Niño weather events are becoming stronger and more frequent because of rising global temperatures, leaving the lake little time to replenish itself after a dry season. “It’s only going to get worse,” Perez said. The area has seen a temperature increase of 0.9 degrees Celsius over the past 60 years, causing water from the lake to evaporate roughly three times as fast, according to Perez.
As the water has disappeared, so have the people who depended on the lake as a source of livelihood. More than half of the people living in the nearby village of Untavi have left in the past three years.
While climate change has fueled the lake’s disappearance, locals also point to the government’s mismanagement of water sources.
Much of Lake Poopó’s water came from the Desaguadero River, which has been diverted for mining and agriculture. In recent years, the flow of water into the Lake Poopó fell to a trickle.
“Something could have been done to prevent the disaster,” Angel Flores, head of a local group attempting to save the lake, told the AP. “Mining companies have been diverting water since 1982.”
Government officials dismiss this claim, saying climate change is the primary cause of the lake’s disappearance, but are still hopeful Lake Poopó will once bounce back one more time. Bolivian officials have requested $140 million in aid from the European Union in hopes of replenishing the lake.