International technical assistance is consolidated to recover Uru Uru and Poopó lakes
Photo: T'uru Project/Película "Madre Agua: Tras el Rastro del Lago Poopó"
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15 September 2021
At the request of organizations and communities, experts from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat will evaluate the degradation of the lakes and then issue technical recommendations for their recovery.
Oruro, Bolivia. From October 11 to 15, a team of experts from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat will visit the Uru Uru and Poopó lakes, located in the central-eastern part of the Bolivian altiplano, to conduct a technical analysis of their degradation and then provide concrete recommendations to the Bolivian State for the recovery of the ecosystems.
In July 2019—as part of the #LagoPoopóEsVida campaign—local communities and environmental, social and women's organizations sent the Ramsar Secretariat information on the state of the lakes and requested technical assistance to assess their health. The Bolivian government then made the formal request to make the visit feasible.
"We recognize the political will of national authorities to obtain international support for the environmental crisis facing the lakes, on whose preservation the livelihoods of peasant and indigenous populations depend," said Claudia Velarde, an attorney with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). "Ramsar Advisory Missions are an effective tool offering independent and specialized advice geared toward the preservation of wetlands."
Poopó is the second largest lake in Bolivia. In 2002, in order to preserve its biodiversity—which includes endemic and migratory birds and the largest number of flamingos in South America—Poopó and Uru Uru were declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty for the protection of these natural environments.
"The Uru Uru and Poopó lakes guarantee the recharging of wells and other water sources, regulate the climate, provide habitat for birdlife, food security and sovereignty for surrounding populations, and shelter millenary cultures," said Limbert Sánchez, of the Center for Ecology and Andean Peoples (CEPA).
Several factors have led to the catastrophic situation currently facing Lake Poopó, including: mining activities, which have not stopped during the pandemic and permanently generate acidic water and tons of mining waste; the diversion of tributaries like the Mauri River; the fact that the TDSP (Titicaca-Desaguadero-Poopó-Salar Water System) is not guaranteeing water for the entire basin; and the climate crisis. Cumulatively, these situations have damaged the lake and placed the life systems that depend on it at risk.
"In December 2015, the water levels of Lake Poopó were completely reduced, one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in the country. Currently, what is left of the water mirror is minimal compared to historical records," corroborated Yasin Peredo, of the Center for Andean Communication and Development (CENDA).
In addition to causing serious environmental damage, what’s happening to Lakes Poopó and Uru Uru is a serious violation of surrounding communities’ rights to water, health, territory, food and livelihood.
"It’s with great sadness that we witness the disappearing of Lake Poopó, and the risk to our Lake Uru Uru," said Margarita Aquino, coordinator of the National Network of Women Defenders of Mother Earth (RENAMAT). "Mining contamination is stripping us of our water sources and is violating the rights of us women and our communities."
Indigenous Aymara and Quechua communities depend on the health of these ecosystems, as do the Uru Murato, one of Bolivia's oldest native nations. The members of this millenary culture once lived from fishing, but the contamination of Poopó and its scarce water supply has forced them to migrate in search of other ways to survive.
Don Pablo Flores, a native authority of the Uru de Puñaca community explains: "In August, authorities arrived and with them we went to the lake and found that there is no more water; the Panza Island sector is also dry. As Urus, how are we living? Before we used to go for parihuanas [Andean flamingos], but not now. In February they used to lay eggs and change their feathers. This year there are none. The flamingos are dead. The lake does not exist now. The three Uru communities are suffering; we used to live from hunting and fishing. We ask the municipal, departmental and national authorities for more attention because, so far, practically nothing has been done to save, protect and recover our lake Poopó."
By including the Uru Uru and Poopó lakes as a Ramsar site, the Bolivian State committed itself to conserving the ecological characteristics of these wetlands. In this sense, the visit from the mission of experts is a key opportunity to obtain objective and specialized recommendations aimed at fulfilling this commitment.
"Environmental organizations, communities and the people of Bolivia are awaiting the visit of the Ramsar Mission. We believe that the current situation of the ecosystem must be taken into account, but also the factors that continue to influence its degradation. As long as strategies to combat climate change are not adopted, mining pollution is not stopped, and the amount of water needed for the entire TDPS is not guaranteed, the critical situation of our Uru Uru and Poopó lakes cannot be reversed," said Ángela Cuenca, coordinator of the CASA Collective.