For the past few weeks citizens of La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia have been living through most severe water scarcity crisis of the past few decades. Approximately 400,000 people (137,000 families) have been directly affected, and over 200,000 hectares of farmland used for both internal consumption and exportation are facing the consequences of the lack of potable water.
Evo Morales’s government is accusing a lack of foresight among the officials managing the state company in charge of the water supply, and a lack of rain forecasts. International opinions point to climate change as the primary cause. The reality is that no effective solutions have been developed.
Water scarcity crisis in La Paz
A Social, political, and environmental crisis
The level of rain in Bolivia has decreased by over 40% this year alone and it’s estimated that agriculture production will decrease by at least 50%, indicating an eventual crisis. Furthermore, the majority of families dedicated to agriculture currently find themselves in debt to the businesses that sell seeds and fertilizer. Due to the effects of the drought during the main production season, many families have described themselves as feeling desperate.
Protests in La Paz over the water scarcity crisis
There are protests going on in the streets of La Paz and El Alto asking that the government take urgent action. Water is being supplied through tanks trucks which don’t cater to the severity of the situation.
The current flow of dams that supply water to the Andean capital are between 5% and 20% of their normal total, the lowest water level ever seen. A part of the city’s water supply comes from precipitation, which has been insufficient this year. However, another part depends on the water received from snowmelt from the sacred snow capped mountains that surround and protect La Paz, the Illimani and Mururata are the two principal mountains.
Illimani Defense Committee
The eighty six communities living at the base of the Illimani declared themselves in a permanent state of emergency on September 25th in defense of life and for the protection of the Illimani and Mururata. They denounced the presence of Chinese miners diverting the course of the water from snowmelt.
The alert was widely heard due to the fact that these communities are the city’s main food suppliers.
Community leaders conducted an inspection and verified that the transnational company had set up a camp, facilities, and improved the nearby roads some time ago.The entire visit was documented through photos.
The community members decided to create an Illimani Defense Committee consisting of representatives from Kaphi, Cayimbaya, Pinaya and Palca communities, with the objective of “investigating mining activities performed by national, transnational, and other companies that possibly harm the snow capped mountains, Illimani and Mururata”.
They have yet to receive any satisfactory response on behalf of government entities.
They Denounce Mining Exploitation around the Illimani
Mining exploitation of the Illimani.
Delegate Norma Piérola issued a complaint before the media, alerting them of the presence of Chinese companies. On her facebook page she stated:
“Evo Morales’s government has not spoken out and is maintaining silence after a severe complaint about the sale of the Illimani snow capped mountain to the Chinese transnational Yunnan Chihong Zn & GE LTD, on behalf of mining company, Amazona Bolivia S.A. (Comabol SA), also of Chinese origin. It would involve the “Las Nieves I” deposit, covering seventy mining grid squares on the Illimani surface, at the price of million dollars.”
Evo Morales’s government denies the existence of any form of Chinese exploitation in the sector where the diversion of the Illimani waters is being permitted. On the contrary, they affirm that the photographs published on social media correspond to construction of the Alto Hampaturi dam. However, they confirmed that they flew over the snow capped mountains and confirmed that the lakes which provide water to La Paz are dry.
Simultaneously, the president of the National Chamber of Mining, Saturnino Ramos confirmed the presence of mining exploitation on behalf of Chinese companies that operate through Bolivian cooperatives in his declaration to the national newspaper,
Journalistic visit confirms that miners are diverting the water
On November 23rd the front page of the national newspaper,EL DIARIO, confirmed that there are mining cooperatives operating at less than a kilometer from the Incachaca dam. They’re diverting the water coming from the snow caps using a hose system for their own mining use, which requires an abundance of fresh water.
Cooperative (Los Pioneros) partner, Lucio Hayta assured journalists that they use water from different sources than the slopes that contribute to the dam.
At approximately 10%, the level of the dam is extremely low. Surrounding it, miners are operating dynamite explosions and drilling, which generates a large cloud of residue that will eventually stop at the dam water, which is now yellow and murky. The small dams are now extremely contaminated.
Hoses divert water
The journalists from EL DIARIO confirmed the existence of hoses that are diverting the water from the crystalline slopes and snow caps that should be feeding the dam, directly to the mining projects. Likewise, they were surprised by the the reduction of the Chuquiaguillo river’s current which previously flowed to the point where they miners are now located, just a few meters from Hampaturi dam.
Miners close to the dam divert water with hoses
Water and mining
Miners use large quantities of water for the processing of minerals, transportation of mud, suppression of dust, and to supply for the needs of employees.
The majority of mining companies obtain water from lakes, rivers, and from underground sources. Nevertheless, mines tend to exist in dry areas, which is why mining operations pose a fatal risk to the few available water sources around them or below the ground.
In addition, the water sources nearby become contaminated with toxic waste, implying severe consequences for the population’s health.
The situation is evident. Mining requires water in abundance, dams are low and rain is scarce, the situation is out of hand. Even though miners have diverted the Illimani’s water for years, only recent circumstances have made the population truly feel the consequences.
We want water, not mining!
This is the call from a thirsty community suffering the consequences of a lack of vital liquid. The forecast says that the world will have to get used to living with little water throughout the next few decades.
“No more violence against our Mother Earth”
Why not put a stop to mining and other polluting activities now, to prevent the disaster on it’s way?
Could it be that “progress” is worth our lives and our health, and that of our children?
The prayers for rain of indigenous peoples around the city have had an effect, but they’re not enough to revert the gravity of the situation we are experiencing, and the one we are anticipating.
It’s possible that the government will negotiate with the miners, and the population of La Paz will regain their access to water, but in lesser quantity. Learning little by little how to live with a shortage of water could avoid a political crisis, but not an environmental crisis.
To what cost will ambition be more important than life?
We invite you read Dr. Vandana Shiva’s work on the topic of water: