Water reserves in Bolivia dwindle amid winter heatwave

STORY: A prolonged drought in Bolivia, combined with one of the hottest winters on record, is leaving parts of the country short of water and reducing lush farmlands to dust.

These glaciers in the Bolivian Andes usually provide fresh water to the surrounding wetlands, springs and dams, but they're retreating fast...

And with experts saying the situation could worsen when the El Nino weather pattern hits the region in December, concern amongst residents is mounting:

[Bertha Apaza / El Alto resident]

“It’s getting dry and we have schedules to get water. We don’t have enough to cook or to wash clothes. Even less for taking baths."

Thousands of miles above sea level, in the Bolivian city of El Alto, people line up to receive their water rations from a community water tank:

[Catalina Mansilla / Farmer]

“Now I have water. I’m very happy with this water. We can drink now and my animals will have enough water too.”

It’s a temporary relief for Catalina Mansilla, a farmer who saw some of her animals die of thirst, before the local government began to send the water.

August and September, typically temperate months for this region, have seen extreme heat.

Hundreds of thousands of families and vast swathes of crop and cattle farmland has already been impacted.

El Alto’s Secretary of Water and Environment Sanitation Management, Gabriel Pari says the high temperature, combined with a lack of rainfall, has depleted water reserves to a critical level:

[Gabriel Pari / El Alto’s Secretary of Water and Environment Sanitation Management]

“The city of El Alto is going through a hydrologic emergency because the farming calendar for 2022-2023 hasn't had the normal amount of rain.”

Oscar Paz, a researcher at Universidad Mayor de san Andres, says there hasn't been enough rain during the La Nina phenomenon.

The past three years have been dominated by the cooler weather pattern, which usually has the opposite impact on weather and climate as El Nino.

[Oscar Paz / Researcher / Universidad Mayor de San Andres]

“The thing is that the La Nina phenomenon, which should have brought us a lot of rain, didn’t bring us the amount of rain we thought. If we add to this the drought and the temperature increase, the levels of water storage will possibly dwindle.”

While authorities have voiced confidence that water reserves will last until December when the rainy season usually arrives, members of the scientific community warn El Nino could further alter the forecast in December, potentially cranking up the heat, and prolonging the water crisis.