Andes Region

Bolivia Diaries

The Land and the People

The Andes are home to rich cultural and biological diversity. The impacts of climate change affecting these ecosystems have direct effects on human communities that depend upon their resources.  Reports show that the high tropical Andes region is one of the the most severely at risk to climate change; as warming trends are similar to that of the polar regions in high elevations.  The tropical Andes provide fresh water, food, cultural importance and many other ecosystem services to the people of this region.  The Andes are at risk to increased extreme events, droughts, heat and cold waves, and intense rainfall.  Mean warming for Latin America could reach 1 to 4 degrees or as high as six degrees Celsius (IPCC, 2014). The effects on the High Andean region are a representation of climate change affecting vulnerable and exposed communities and ecosystems (Anderson et al., 2016; IPCC 2014; Nakashima, 2012; UNFCCC, 2007)



  • Rising temperatures
  • Decreasing rainfall
  • Pro-longed dry season
  • Heightened wet season
  • Increased climatic variability


  • Drought
  • Erosion and Landslides
  • Glacier melt
  • Loss of biodiversity-rich wetlands
  • Species disappearance or migration

Lake Poopó, second largest lake in Bolivia has almost entirely dried up

The New York Times

Glacier Melt

The tropical Andes glaciers in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are rapidly retreating (Dangles et al., 2017; IPCC, 2014; Nakashima, 2012; UNFCCC, 2007).  Tropical glacier loss is between 20% and 50%.  Small glaciers with upper reaches lower than 5400m will disappear in the middle of the 21st century and glaciers on the highest summits will lose between 40% and 90% of their volume by 2100 (Dangles et al., 2017). The glacier melt increases flow in wet seasons and decreases in dry seasons, which is problematic as glacier melt is a main contributor to water in dry seasons (IPCC, 2014).  A combination of less runoff in dry season and rising temperature can lead to drought in Bolivia.  Projections find that once glaciers have melted completely in the Andes, annual discharge would decrease up to 30% (IPCC, 2014).  The current buffer that maintains river flows even when seasonal variability results in dryness could disappear with glaciers and drying rivers (Nakashima, 2012; Anderson et al., 2016). 

The Chacaltaya Glacier in Bolivia is projected to disappear within the next fifteen years (Nakashima, 2012).  As the glacier reservoir gradually empties, peak water availability passes, runoff decreases, and water becomes scarce (Dangles et al., 2017; IPCC 2014).  The Cordillera Blanca of Peru contains nine river basins, seven of which have crossed the critical threshold and exhibit less runoff (IPCC, 2014).  

Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Two Wandering Soles

Chacaltaya Glacier, La Paz, Bolivia

Inside Climate News

High Andean Wetland Loss

Glacial melt endangers High Andean wetlands, which will impact the vulnerable communities in the high-elevation Andean tropical basins (Dangles et al., 2017; Anderson et al., 2016; IPCC, 2014; Nakashima, 2012). High Andean wetlands are considered ecosystem sentinels for climate change as they are particularly sensitive to glacier melting (Dangles et al., 2017 & Anderson et al., 2016). 

High Andean wetlands in Bolivia are staging grounds for migratory birds and breeding grounds for invertebrates, amphibians, and fish (Dangles et al., 2017 & Nakashima, 2012).  In all of the Andes, a 3-degrees Celsius increase in temperature may result in the movement of plant species up the peaks by 600 meters (Dangles et al., 2017; Anderson et al., 2016).  Major changes in wetlands could result in 35% of bird species and 60% of plant species extinction or critically endangered by 2080 (Anderson et al., 2016).  The consequences of climate change in the Andes Region will directly affect human and non-human species.

High Andean Wetland

BirdLife International 

The Bolivia Cordillera Real: A Threatened Glacier and Wetland Region

  •  Glaciers in this region have been melting for 30 years due to temperature rise   
  • The tropical Cordillera is known for temperatures lower than five degrees Celsius throughout the year with a small peak in the summer 
  • The region reported decreasing precipitation and increasing mean air temp, reportedly a .68-degree Celsius increase since 1939 
  •  The wetlands located in the Cordilleras of the tropical Andes are in high elevation environments with low annual precipitation and soil moisture shortages, often downstream from glaciers that are receding 
  • Currently, Bolivia’s Cordillera Real is in the stage of glacier melt that is resulting in increasing wetlands as the rapid melt is resulting in more runoff 
  • These “annual” or temporary wetlands are not home to the same biodiversity and crucial ecosystem processes as the perennial wetlands (Dangles et al., 2017)

Exposure and Vulnerability

Human populations in the Andes and other lowland areas have relied on the Andean ecosystem for water-related resources such as water supply, flow regulation, energy and waste-assimilation.  Andean rivers provide most irrigation water for croplands and provide 50% of regional electricity through hydropower plants (Anderson et al., 2016).  Most wastewater is discharged directly into the rivers without prior treatment, therefore a reduced flow due to glacier loss would not allow for the waste dilution that must occur.  The shift from precipitation in the form of snow to rain will lead to increasing surface runoff and erosion.  Further, there are implications of slope stability and the safety of human settlements in down slope areas.  The people of the Andes are most vulnerable to the risks of glacier melt and drought as both directly affect agriculture, the staple of the region (Anderson et al., 2016; IPCC, 2014; UNFCCC, 2007). 

The Guardian

Drought threatens quinoa production, an agriculture staple in Bolivia

Latin American Bureau

Land degradation is most prominent in Bolivian land

Inside Climate News

Effects on Agriculture

Agriculture is the most important economic sector to the Andean region as quinoa and potatoes have provided much of the population their livelihood.  Changes in precipitation and temperature will directly affect this sector and will lead to further stress on croplands as agriculture will expand into higher elevations.  Another effect on agriculture is the possibility of more insect herbivores and pests as temperatures rise (Anderson et al., 2016).  In past epochs of similar warming trends, there was evidence of rising damaged leaves by pests.  The pressures of climate change in addition to degradation of agricultural lands will put the Andean ecosystems at risk as well as exacerbate food security for the vulnerable communities . The tropical Andes are important to focus on as the livelihoods of millions of people who are already economically and culturally vulnerable will be directly affected by the changing climate. The following case studies will illustrate how all of the above impacts are affecting the lives of local people (Anderson et al., 2016; IPCC, 2014; UNFCCC, 2007).

Santiago K, Bolivia: Lives Changed by Drought

The people of Santiago K, Bolivia are experiencing firsthand the downfall of agriculture due to the effects of climate change.  The bustling farming village of Santiago K thrived off the global demand in quinoa for years until the drought hit.  The longest drought in Bolivia in 25 years began in 2015 and lasted two years, leading the government to call a state of emergency.  The drought combined with rising temperatures halted agriculture and the quinoa production that kept Santiago K alive. People of the farming village were forced out of their homes to find different forms of livelihood.  Before the drought, 125 families lived in Santiago, now only 25 remain.  The people of Santiago K flocked to nearby cities such as El Alto or cities in Chile to seek employment.  Previous to this drought, one third of the population of Bolivia migrated into cities between 2006 and 2011. The members of Santiago K are members of a population of climate refugees around the world that will continue to grow (Walker, 2017).  

Drought forced the once thriving community out of their homes

Inside Climate News

Effects on Indigenous Communities: The Uru-Murato People

In 2016 the second largest lake in Bolivia, Lake Poopó, dried up (Walker, 2017; Casey, 2016).  The lake had provided the livelihood for the Uru Murato people for generations.  The fish and birds in the ecosystem allowed the Uru Murato people to survive.  The members of this indigenous group are now also members of the growing population of climate refugees as they seek livelihood outside of the Lake Poopó region for the first time in their history.  The Uru Murato must now seek out jobs in the salt flats or the mining industry nearby.  Only 636 people remain in the villages surrounding the lake.  The dry up of Lake Poopó began due to issues of water diversion to agriculture and mining upstream left the lake vulnerable.  As quinoa production rose, the water diversion to croplands also heightened (Casey, 2016).  The plateau the lake sits on as well as the rising temperatures and drought induced by climate change exacerbated the risks to the lake (Casey, 2016).  The plateau had warmed 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1995 to 2005.  On average, the lake warmed .41 degrees Celsius each decade since 1985.  The livelihood of the Uru Murato people was ingrained in the land which they lived on, a particularly vulnerable area to climate change, and due to this are having to find drastically different ways to continue on (Casey, 2016).

The Uru Murato people find new ways to meet basic needs without Lake Poopó

The New York Times

Uru-Murato man with last flamingo wing, a once prominent staple of the Lake Poopó region

The New York Times

Adaptation and Resilience

Adaptation Framework 

  • Use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge is crucial as Bolivia has the highest percentage of indigenous people in any South American country (Oxfam, 2009)
  • Integration and empowerment of women in society and adaptation roles (Derks, 2018)
  • Socially, economically, and culturally feasible strategies (UNESCO)
  • Reducing structural vulnerability (UNESCO)
  • Promote robust and resilient systems (UNESCO)
  • Manage climate risks through appropriate technologies, cheap and locally accessible (UNESCO)
  • Collaboration of local and national governments, NGOs, and other governmental institutions

Agriculture Adaptation Practices

Agroforestry and crop variation on indigenous land


Palca Indigenous Population of the Choquecota River Basin, Bolivia:

  • Use of different altitudinal level and microclimates for agricultural land use
  • Diversify crop locations and varieties to minimize risk of total loss in poor seasons
  • Aynoqa: Traditional crop rotation scheme on community land to maintain fertile land
  • Prioritize crops that yield most per hectare to utilize available fertile lands
  • Short cycle and drought resistant crops
  • Replace earthen irrigation canals and switch to larger infrastructure investments

(McDowell & Hess, 2012)

Khuluyo Community of Altiplano, Bolivia

  • Improvement of quality of seeds
  • Sustainable land management
  • Erosion control
  • Reforestation, stabilization of hillsides, planting of tree species that fixes nitrogen level in soil

(Robledo et al., 2004)

Farmers of the Batallas Community


Water seeps away from irrigation systems in Batallas Community


Bolivia Community Based Adaptation (CBA) Country Programme Strategy Case Studies

Water Source Protection and Soil Conservation through Reforestation in Batallas

Water Scarcity in the Batallas communities of Huancané, Tuquia, and Huncallani:

  • Frequent decrease in their springs’ water levels and threats to future water availability
  • Wells exhibit water table decreases in the dry season to very low level and water levels of Lake Titicaca are dropping

Adaptation Strategies:

  • Help to restore a communal tree nursery in Huancané, improving its capacity to produce tree and shrub seedlings by 60%, better supply for commercial and reforestation purposes.
  • Reforest select areas, construct filtration ditches
  •  Information sessions and training workshops will help communities establish the proper committees, boards, and systems to sustainably manage these resources into the future.


Knowledge and Tools for Sustainable Management of Water and Soils in Moro Moro (Natura)

 Moro Moro in Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia: Agriculture and Pastoral Livelihoods:

  • Moro Moro is located in Bolivia’s “warm valleys” – an area of transition between the western high plains and the eastern lowlands. 
  • Livelihoods are primarily agricultural and pastoral
  • Serious deforestation and soil degradation on the steeply sloped pastures and farmlands
  • Soil degradation and deforestation affects water quality and quantity for populations living downstream.

Adaptation Strategies:

  • Local knowledge of natural resources and changing climate used to inform municipal planning
  • Create local monitoring system for principal water sources
  • Reforest non-vegetated land to minimize contamination, sedimentation and flood erosion risks
  • Reforest key hydrological capture zones and areas at risk from increasing erosion pressures
  • Target community awareness and adaptive capacity through an aggressive outreach and training component, while sharing lessons with neighboring municipalities.


Looking Forward

As the impacts of climate change intensify, and the vulnerabilities of Bolivia and the Greater Andean region accumulate, the countries of the Andes will need to take collaborative action to protect their resources.  There are currently projects addressing ecosystem community adaptation approaches such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge as well as community-based adaptation within smaller populations, but more are always needed.  The largest gap in climate change adaptation of the Andes is utilizing international resources such as the Green Climate Fund and Technology Transfer.  Sources of funding from these larger organizations can help the Andes region to intensify resilience and initiate further adaptation. The Andes propose a challenge as the governments of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina must all come together and form coalitions to create mutual understanding of the issue and begin cooperative adaptation programs.  While national level approaches will help populations, the most effective way to address climate change in the Andes will be for all six governments to collaborate.  Finally, it is crucial to always utilize and take into account the knowledge and practices of the indigenous groups in the region.

Mother and child return home in the Uru Murato community

The New York Times

About the Author

Jennifer Evans is a class of 2019 Environmental Studies and Sociology at St. Lawrence University.  Growing up skiing and hiking in The Berkshires, Massachusetts, her affinity for the outdoors transferred to a passion for environmental justice and studying the communities most affected by climate change.  This narrative was created for Dr. Jon Rosales' Adapting to Climate Change class in Spring 2018.


Anderson, E., Marengo, J., Villalba, R., Halloy, S., Young, B., Cordero, D., Gast, F., Jaimes, E., Ruiz, D. (2016). Consequences of Climate Change for Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services in the Tropical Andes. ResearchGate.

Bolivia: Climate Change, Poverty and Adaptation.” Oxfam International, 3 Nov. 2009.

Bolivia: Climate Change, Poverty and Adaptation.” Oxfam International, Oct. 2009.

CBA Bolivia: Knowledge and Tools for Sustainable Management of Water and Soils in Moro Moro (Natura).

CBA Bolivia: Water Source Protection and Soil Conservation through Reforestation in Batallas | UNDP's Climate Change Adaptation Portal.

Dangles, O., Rabatel, A., Kraemer, M., Zeballos, G., Soruco, A., Jacobsen, D., & Anthelme, F. (2017). Ecosystem sentinels for climate change? Evidence of wetland cover changes over the last 30 years in the tropical Andes. Plos One, 12(5). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175814

Derks, Sanne. “Bolivia's Indigenous Women Cope with Climate Change.” | Al Jazeera, 22 Feb. 2018.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change): n.d. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Chapter 27).

Llabata, Raquel Guaita. “Climate Change Adaptation Local Practice in the Andean Region: An Overview.” UNESCO, International Hydrological Programme..

Mcdowell, Julia Z., and Jeremy J. Hess. “Accessing Adaptation: Multiple Stressors on Livelihoods in the Bolivian Highlands under a Changing Climate.” Global Environmental Change, vol. 22, no. 2, 2012, pp. 342–352., doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.11.002.

Nakashima, D.J., Galloway McLean, K., Thulstrup, H.D., Ramos Castillo, A. and Rubis, J.T. 2012. Weathering Uncertainty: Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation. Paris, UNESCO, and Darwin, UNU, 120 pp.

Robledo, Carmenza, et al. “Increasing the Resilience of Hillside Communities in Bolivia.”Mountain Research and Development, vol. 24, no. 1, 2004, pp. 14–18., doi:10.1659/0276-4741(2004)024[0014:itrohc];2.

Seiler, C., Hutjes, R. W., Kruijt, B., & Hickler, T. (2015). The sensitivity of wet and dry tropical forests to climate change in Bolivia. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences,120(3), 399-413. doi:10.1002/2014jg002749

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change): n.d. Climate Change: Impacts, Vulnerability, and Adaptation in Developing Countries.“Bolivia.” UNDP's Climate Change Adaptation Portal, UNDP.


The Guardian:

Inside Climate News: American Bureau:

New York Times:

Two Wandering Soles: 

Jill Over Ground:

Bird Life International:

UNDP: Community Based Adaptation: