|Lake Poopó was Bolivia's second largest lake.|
By Samantha Cowan
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.
The lake—once twice the size of Los Angeles—has shrunk down to just 2 percent of its previous size, The Associated Press reports. It was officially declared evaporated in December.
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.