Lake Titicaca drying up as heat wave turns winter upside down

By Monica Machicao

HUARINA, Bolivia (Reuters) – The parched shoreline and shrinking depths of Lake Titicaca are prompting growing alarm that an ago-old way of life around South America’s largest lake is slipping away as a brutal heat wave wreaks havoc on the southern hemisphere’s winter.

Like many places suffering deadly consequences of climate change, the sprawling freshwater lake nestled in the Andes mountains on Bolivia’s border with Peru now features a water level approaching an all-time low.

Globally, July was the hottest month on record, as prolonged dry spells take an especially heavy toll on humans and animals alike.

Titicaca is only 30 cm (1 foot) away from reaching its record low of 1996 due to severe drought, said Lucia Walper, an official with Bolivia’s hydrology and meteorology service. She added that the drought could last until November in some parts of the country.

Farmers in the adjacent Huarina community are desperate for help.

“Look, this part is totally dry. There’s no water,” said Isabel Apaza. “I don’t know what we’re going to do any more since we don’t have food for our cows or lambs.”

The waters of Lake Titicaca have for decades ebbed and flowed at an altitude of around 3,800 meters (12,500 ft) above sea level, which makes it even more vulnerable to evaporation by solar radiation, according to experts at Bolivia’s Oruro Technical University.

Along extended stretches of the lake’s shore, once fertile areas have recently been reduced to dust.

“It’s like the earth is burning,” lamented Huarina leader Gabriel Flores.

Historic drought in South America has also slammed neighboring Argentina’s crucial farm sector, prompting the International Monetary Fund to forecast a 2.5% economic contraction this year as a result.

Meanwhile in Uruguay, the Canelon Grande Reservoir, a major source of drinking water for the capital Montevideo, shriveled in June as water levels sank so low that grass covered much of the lake bed.

(Reporting by Monica Machicao; Additional reporting by Santiago Limachi and Sergio Limachi; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Nick Macfie)