Impacts

Climate change and water in Bolivia. The relationship between water and climate change could be devastating. We have already experienced longer and more frequent droughts, floods and storms. In Bolivia, the floods in 2007 left more than 340,000 victims, completely affecting agricultural yields as well.
  • EXTREME EVENTS: Extreme hydro-meteorological events are frequent in Bolivia, and will tend to increase in magnitude and intensity due to the impact of climate change. In the past, the frequency of storms in Bolivia, with winds above 100 km/h based on the Beaufort scale, have increased and cause considerable damage. The presence of convective movements with violent hailstorms has been observed, such as those in La Paz in February 2002 and 2003.
  • DROUGHTS: Climate change could exacerbate the scarcity of water in the arid and semiarid valleys, as well as reduce the availability of water in the highlands. Many productive and urban areas in the arid region depend on rudimentary water systems using wells or rivers. These supply systems are vulnerable to the availability of water and lack reserves which allow them to have water in the dry season.
  • FLOODS: Climate change could increase intense rains causing floods that could lead to significant damages in infrastructure.   According to regional scenarios, a reduction in the periods of rain is expected, yet with a probability of an increase in heavy rains during short periods of time. Bolivia does not yet have systems to study neither rain patterns nor an early warning system, which increases the vulnerability of its human populations, especially those settlements that are unplanned. In addition, many watersheds in Bolivia do not have integrated management systems underway regarding aquatic resources, nor are activities contemplated tending towards the protection of these watersheds. This leads to land degradation, a decline in aquifer recharge and reduced availability of water, which, all together, reduces economic productivity and income for the population.
  • GLACIER REDUCTION: The documented reduction of glaciers due to global warming can increase seasonal runoff in the short term, as well as increase the dependence on seasonal rains for the provision of water in the medium to long term. According to Francou, the Bolivian glacier Chacaltaya, located 20 km to the northeast of the city of La Paz, has lost 82% of its surface area since 1982, and could completely melt by the year 2013.
 / ©: wwf
Pantanal Deforestación
© wwf
It is predicted that climate change will affect the Pantanal with increasing rains (currently 1500 mm on average). The years with the most rain could be 2 or 3 times more frequent than they are today, and with this flooding would be more severe.
 / ©: WWF Bolivia
Pantanal Deforestación
© WWF Bolivia

Altered ecosystems

It is predicted that climate change will affect the Pantanal wetland, increasing rains (currently 1500 mm on average). The rainiest years could be 2 or 3 times more frequent than they currently are, and thus flooding would be more severe. In addition, the land conversion for agriculture uses and the destruction of wetlands releases large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the gas that contributes with 60% to global warming.

The Amazon, main source of freshwater

The Amazon is the main source of freshwater on Earth, representing 15-20% of the global flow of rivers (Salati and Vose, 1984). As a result, the hydrological cycle of the Amazon is the main driver of global climate, and therefore the global climate is sensitive to the changes that suffer all water resources in the Amazon River basin. Climate change threatens to seriously affect the Amazon, which in turn would alter global climate and increase the risk of biodiversity loss.

Deforestation is currently causing dramatic changes in climatological patterns in terms of the probability of precipitation patterns; high resolution satellite measurements for precipitation show a greater and significantly higher probability of rains in deforested areas. A long term change was also detected in the seasonal condition of precipitations related to deforestation, suggesting that both are closely related. The accumulation of precipitations has significantly decreased at the end of the rainy season, and has increased at the end of the dry season (Chagnon and Bras, 2005). These findings suggest that current deforestation in the Amazon has already altered regional climate, and upholds previous findings in terms of an increase in superficial clouds over deforested areas (Chagnon et al., 2004). However, previous findings suggest more widespread changes; studies show intensification for decades of precipitation throughout the Amazon (Chu et al., 1994; DeLiberty, 2000; Chen et al., 2002).

El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) seems to be a factor for climatic variability in Latin America (IPCC, 2001). For example, El Niño is associated with conditions of drought in northeastern Brazil and the northern Amazon, the Peruvian-Bolivian highlands and the Pacific Coast of Central America.  The most severe droughts in Mexico in the past decades have occurred during the years of El Niño, while in the south of Brazil and northeastern Peru there have been abnormal rainy conditions during these periods (Horel and Cornejo-Garrido, 1986). La Niña is associated with heavy rains and floods in Colombia and drought in the south of Brazil (Rao et al., 1986). (Source: panda.org/climate)

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Aerial view of Iténez Protected Area (Bolivian Amazon)
© WWF Bolivia / Gustavo YBARRA

Anticipated impacts of climate change in Bolivia –per region

Region

Change scenario

Anticipated impacts

Altiplano

Increased precipitation, increased frequency of storms with fewer days of rain, increased frequency of hail, lower river flow

Increasing appearance of frost, increasing need of water for irrigation due to longer dry season, problems with hydropower generation, glacier retreat, crop failure, flooding in the rainy season, lower availability of water for human and animal consumption, lower aquifer recharge, increased competition for water use

Andean Valleys

Increased precipitation, increased frequency of storms with fewer days of rain, increased frequency of hail

Increased competition for water use, biodiversity loss, increasing need of water for irrigation due to longer dry season, increased risk of mudslides, problems with power generation, soil erosion and desertification

Chaco

Longer dry season during the growing season, intense and recurrent droughts, low river flow

Increased competition for water use, biodiversity loss, increased events of heat waves during the summer, soil erosion and desertification, increased pollution of water sources

Amazon

An increase in the amount of rainfall by event, increased cloudiness rate, high atmospheric humidity in summer and severe droughts and winter

Frequent flooding, infrastructure damage and loss, winter crop failure and livestock loss due to lack of water, increased presence of pests and diseases due to high humidity, biodiversity loss, outbreaks of infectious diseases related to water.

Source: National Program for Climate Change
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Pantanal Deforestación
© WWF Bolivia

Massive disappearance of species

Between 9 and 52% of the species on the planet are threatened with extinction due to climate change. Whether more or fewer extinctions are produced is directly related with the increase of temperatures within the next 50 years, as well as the possibility of species to migrate. Those species that are not capable of adapting or moving will become extinct. (Source: wwf.org.co)
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Zig KOCH
Jaguar (Panthera onca) footprints in the sand at the Onça rapids camping ground. Juruena National Park, Brazil.
© WWF-Canon / Zig KOCH

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