The Tuni glacier once loomed over La Paz as a distant and hulking mass of ice that served a benevolent role, providing roughly 20% of the Bolivian capital city’s water.
Today, however, the glacier has almost fully melted and its departure, along with climate disruptions and municipal mismanagement, has threatened the city’s water supply, according to Reuters.
In recent years, La Paz has been on the front lines of a new era of water scarcity. Between 2016 and 2017, the city faced a severe drought fueled by climate change that forced residents to ration water and depleted reservoirs.
Leaders were confronted with a stark reality: how to support a growing population with less water in an increasingly inhospitable climate?
The loss of the Tuni glacier has only intensified this dilemma. Over the past two decades, the glacier has lost an estimated 23 billion tons of ice per year due to rising temperatures and dwindling snowfall, AFP noted in 2019.
The government has launched various initiatives in recent years to construct new water reservoirs and water supply lines that would draw water from the Andean highlands. But these measures likely have to be joined with more efficient water use, according to AFP. The rationing requirements imposed during the severe drought may come back in one form or another.
More broadly, Bolivia is working to restore forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems to safeguard remaining water supplies while also fighting climate change.
Bolivia is highly vulnerable to climate disruptions, yet has contributed very little to the problem, accounting for just 0.1% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by Oxfam. The report goes on to say that Bolivia’s agricultural sector has struggled with extreme weather events and unpredictable rainfall in recent years. Worsening conditions could lead to widespread displacement.
Rising greenhouse gas emissions are causing glaciers to melt around the world, disrupting water supplies and food production systems. The melting Himalayan glaciers, for instance, threatens the water supply of nearly 1.3 billion people. By 2050, the UN warns that around 5 billion people could face water shortages.