Poopo: memories of water

Misha Vallejo

2016

Poopó, Oruro, Bolivia

The Poopó Lake was the second largest in Bolivia and one of the biggest in South America. In December 2015, it dried out completely due to a number of factors including global warming. This has brought not only environmental but also social problems to the region. The tragedy may be seen as a “local” issue, but for me, this is a warning sign: a clear example of what could happen to other lakes and rivers throughout the world in the near future.

Several indigenous communities live near the dried out lake like the Aymaras and Urus. "We have always been fishermen. We don’t owe land for cattle or for quinoa plantations. Fish was our only means of subsistence. Now all the fish is gone", explains Félix Sequeiros Quispe, the communal major of the Uru community of Llapallapani and continues: “Year after year the temperatures have risen in this area and last year, we hit bottom because of the drought brought by the El Niño phenomena.”

In Untavi, an Aymara community north of the lake, the situation is not better. “I am the last fisherman of the Poopó, tells Don Valerio. Now I work in construction because I need to provide food for my family. My wife used to live here with me, but now she moved to Oruro in search of income. I am thinking of doing the same this year”.

The Poopó Lake was very susceptible to climate changes. Changes that affect the whole world. Changes that are starting to become visible.

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  • Clothes merge with the dried out Poopo Lake in Bolivia.

    The Poopo lake was one of the biggest in extension in South America. In December 2015 it dried out completely due to the El Niño phenomenon and global warming. This situation affects not only the fauna that used to live there but also the fishermen communities located nearby.

  • Abandoned boats are put face down with the hope that they won't get damaged due to the sun and wind. People living in the communities near the Poopo Lake are still hopeful that water and fish will come back.

  • A boy from the Uru community of Llapallapani shows a dead duck near the Poopo Lake in Bolivia.

  • Andrés Choque leaves his grandparent's house on the island of Panza in the Poopo Lake in Bolivia. Panza is not an island anymore since the Poopo Lake has lost all of its water. Panza is now a hill in the middle of a desert. Andrés tells that Panza is now uninhabited.

  • Children play in the Uru indigenous community of Llapallapani, located near the Poopo Lake in Bolivia. The Urus were known for their fishing skills. Traditionally, the Urus do not own big pieces of land and therefore the dried out lake directly affected their economy.

  • Don Germán stands in front of his house in Llapallapani, Bolivia. He was a fisherman in the now dried out lake Poopo. He tells that there was another drought from 1993 until 2000, but it wasn't as heavy as this one. Back in the day he migrated to Chile in order to get a job and support his family. He lived 13 years there. Now he is thinking of doing the same.

  • A kid stands next to a drawing of a flamingo on one of the houses in Llapallapani, Bolivia. Llapallapani is an Uru indigenous community that has been severely affected by the drought in the Poopo Lake.The Urus were known for their fishing skills. Traditionally, the Urus do not own big pieces of land and therefore the dried out lake directly affected their economy.

  • A faucet wrapped in a plastic bag in the Aymara community of Untavi, Bolivia. This is another community affected by the drought caused by global warming and the El Niño phenomenon in Bolivia. Untavi is located near the Poopo Lake and the majority of it's inhabitants were fishermen. Water is scarce in this region.

  • The bones of a dead flamingo merge with the now dried out Poopo Lake in Bolivia. This lake is a transit place for migrating birds such as flamingos and ducks. Together with fish, this kind of fauna has been severely affected due to the drought.

  • Christian posters depicting "rivers of live water" hang on the walls of Doña Cristina's house in Untavi, Bolivia. She migrated to Oruro due to the absence of means of subsistence because of the drought. Her husband, Don Valerio, was the last fisherman in the Poopo Lake.

  • Portrait of Don Valerio. He is proud to call himself the last fisherman at the Poopo Lake. Although the lake dried out completely in December 2018, fish died out two years before that because of the small amount of water. Don Valerio now works in construction and is thinking about migrating to the city of Oruro together with his family.

  • Rinaldo Huanavo Vilca, 82, sits on his bed in his house of Untavi, Bolivia. Untavi is one of the communities most affected by the dried out Poopo Lake. Back in the day he was a fisherman.

  • Rinaldo Huanavo Vilca, holds a picture of him fishing on the Poopo Lake near the population of Untavi. The picture is from around 1960.

  • Carmen Tecla stands in her kitchen in Untavi, Bolivia. Untavi is one of the communities most affected by the dried out Poopo Lake. Her husband, Donato Ayma, was also a fisherman.

  • Chicken roam behind a fishing net now used as a cage in Untavi, Bolivia. Untavi is one of the communities most affected by the dried out Poopo Lake where its inhabitants, most of them former fishermen, need to find other means of subsistence.

  • Pedro Choque, a former fisherman in the now dried out Poopo Lake, works a small piece of land next to his house in Llapallapani, Bolivia. He found another means of subsistence now that all the fish have died.

  • A strikethrough drawing of a flamingo in the local school of Llapallapani. Llapallapani is an Uru indigenous community that has been severely affected by the drought in the Poopo Lake.

  • A piece of cloth merges with the soil of the now dried out Poopo lake in Bolivia.

  • Edi Choque sits in a makeshift fishing boat next to his home. His father, Pedro Choque, used to be a fisherman in the now dried out Poopo Lake in Bolivia. Now he has to grow vegetables such as quinoa and spinach in order to survive.


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