The climate crisis is drying out La Paz

Laszlo writes*

Bolivia is one of the countries that is most affected by climate change, which plays a significant role in water resource depletion. Its capital, La Paz, and its agglomeration El Alto, located in the mountain range of the Andes, are particularly affected by it as it is 3,500 meters above sea level, where climate is changing faster.

In parallel, population increase is a common pressure on water resources worldwide. La Paz’s growth rate being around 4 percent and El Alto’s being 8 percent annually increases water demand. The drinkable water supply has been plummeting for the last 30 years.

Glaciers contribute around 15 to 30 percent of supply. Due to rising temperatures (0.8 degrees in 1999 to 1 degree in 2018) and the shortening of precipitation seasons from 6 months to 3 months, their surface area has decreased by 40 percent since 1999, meaning lower supply.

Climate change also affects precipitation, which nearly 90 percent of the City’s reservoirs rely on.

The lack of effective and maintained infrastructure for water management does not help the effects of the climate crisis either. The reservoirs located in the heights of the La Paz agglomeration lose lots of water from evaporation and higher temperatures. 45 percent of the city’s water is lost due to defective dams and irrigation.

The climate crisis has been the cause of various crises in the past, such as the 2016-17 water crisis. In November 2016, the south area, city center, and some parts of El Alto experienced a sudden water shortage and were alarmed by the fact that the main water-providing dams (Incachaca, Hampaturi, and Ajuankhota) were at their lowest capacities. In the following months, 94 neighborhoods in La Paz and El Alto suffered from receiving water for only 3 hours every 3 days.

This winter (summer for the northern hemisphere) was been one of the hottest on record. As of September 2023, residents of the agglomeration of La Paz, El Alto, have been only given access to water at dedicated times of the day. A popular water shortage “reflex” has been activated, and water is rationed.

Taking into account these factors, governmental entities have not yet started to track glacier retreats and neither have they started implementing strategies to tackle the consequences of the climate crisis on water resources.

Bottom Line: La Paz is experiencing a deepening water crisis exacerbated by the lack of proactive measures and strategic planning from governmental entities.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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