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Bolivia NCAP project: Lake Titicaca findings

This page summarises the key findings for the Lake Titicaca region from the Bolivia NCAP Project. For background information and context on the Lake Titicaca region, please see this page.

The production systems in the Lake Titicaca region face significant climatic hazards that determine their successful development and consequently the food security in the area. The probability and frequency of frosts and droughts is high and they would jeopardize the production systems in the region. There is a period of 160 days (November to March) that is considered to be free of frost occurrence (< 50% of probability/day). This period that is frost free, coincides with the occurrence of rain fall in the region. As a result, the agricultural activities are concentrated mainly between the months of October and April and the selection of crops is reduced to those that have a short productive cycle and good adaptive capacity to daily temperature variations of 10 to 15 °C.

The vulnerability of the system is aggravated by high rainfall variability. In particular, when the start of the rainy season is delayed, crop production can be seriously affected due to water shortages, and also because of an increased likelihood of frost damage towards the end of the rainy season before the plants have had time to mature. The low temperatures and water availability in the region over the year slow down the physiological activity of plants extending their productive cycle and making them even more vulnerable to the effects of frosts and droughts. As a result, it is very important to select crops that are resistant to climatic variability and have short productive cycles. It is also necessary to consider that the implementation of an irrigation system, at least during the critical stages of the crops’ development, could significantly increase the productivity and adaptive capacity of the production systems in the region, contributing to food security and the sustainability of livelihoods.

The production systems in the Lake Titicaca region are mainly based on the production of crops such as potatoes, quinoa and broad bean and cattle breeding (mainly for dairy production). Fisheries are an additional economic activity for the communities located near the lake. Generally, production in the region is not only for commerce but also for personal consumption, which is important for local food security. Unfortunately, the poor conditions in the region and the limited size of available land for agricultural use shape the productivity and vulnerability of the production systems affecting their capacity to cope with climatic hazards such as droughts and frosts. In this sense, an increase in intensity and frequency of climatic extremes places the food security and the socio-economic system of the local population at risk.

Risk Perception

Local Perceptions of Change Possible Adaptation Measures
The rainfall season has changed; rain is starting later delaying the sowing. Because the rainy season is shorter, the suitable period for production has also shortened. Due to water scarcity and drought some crops such as broad beans cannot be cultivated. New resistant crops have to be developed for the area.
Frosts are ‘out of season’ and have become unpredictable affecting crops such as potatoes. New varieties of potatoes that are resistant to frosts need to be introduced into the region.
Frosts and hail have increased in intensity sometimes causing the loss of entire production fields. Crops have to be cultivated again in the hills.

Community fires have to be organized to prevent the impacts of frosts.

Droughts are more intense and frequent than previous years and the soil dries faster. Suitable irrigation systems and crop varieties that are resistant to drought should be introduced.
Higher temperature and rain intensity (within a few months) increase the risk of plagues. Plagues have become more aggressive affecting crops, in particular potato production.
Higher rain intensity (within a few months) affects the pastures and crops cultivated on the flat areas Drainage systems have to be developed.
Temperature rise is affecting the cattle, increasing their susceptibility to diseases. Introduce new cattle that are tolerant to temperature variability and improve control of animal diseases.

Introduce new forage varieties resistant to drought.

Water Resources

Rain water resources are limited in the northern Bolivian Altiplano. Only a few communities have irrigation systems, particularly in the higher areas. Among the communities that have permanent access to water, only a few implement an improved irrigation system. However, these systems are deteriorating due to lack of maintenance. The main rivers in the region contain water for the majority of the year and are used by the communities for irrigation. There are two main sources of water in the Lake Titicaca region: glaciers and rain. In past years, glaciers in the region have been melting and problems associated with a lack of available water resources have become more severe. This situation is expected to worsen in coming years due to climate change.

The coverage of drinking water services in the communities in the study area is deficient. Only 35% of communities have easy access to drinking water services. A potable water system is under construction for 12% of the communities and the remaining 53% of the population does not have access to drinking water. The quality of the system is deficient, some communities need an extension of the system and several communities need an improvement in infrastructure. Also, some communities do not have sanitary systems with the exception of some households and educational centers.

In several areas surrounding the Lake Titicaca, drinking water is obtained from both rivers and groundwater wells built with stones or cement. About 40% of drinking water in the region comes from these wells. Water in these wells is generally extracted with water pumps or manually. In general, water from rivers and wells is not boiled before being consumed resulting in parasitic infections.

With regards to local perceptions, more than half of the people interviewed (79%) believed that 10 years ago water for irrigation was sufficient; however 76% believed that current water resources are scarce in the region and are not sufficient for human and cattle consumption or for crop irrigation. Table 3 summarizes local perceptions of the risks affecting water resources in the region and the associated effects on production systems, as well as some suggested preventive measures.

Human Health

Malaria in the highlands: an emerging threat

During the rainy season in 1998 (between January and May) an outbreak of Malaria in the Lake Titicaca region affected 83 people. While small by comparison to outbreaks of Malaria in lowland areas, the significance is the spread of Malaria for the first time to the Altiplano zone, and was caused by Plasmodium vivax reaching 8 communities in the area situated between 2,600 and 3,800m above sea level During the Malaria outbreak the local authorities and communities communicated the situation to the health centers in the area. The centers lacked the capacity and equipment to respond to this type of emergency, and people had not previously been exposed to the disease, so lacked immunity

The outbreak in 1998 coincided with the El Niño event 1997/98 that strongly impacted the region, which caused an increase of the temperature and the rainfall concentrated within a few months. The outbreak of Malaria during the rain season is attributable to the climatic events of that year, a relationship which has also been perceived by the locals involved in the assessment. The 1999/98 event may serve as a warning for the Altiplano that the projected increase in temperature and rain intensity in the Lake Titicaca region could increase the vulnerability of the local population to vector transmissible diseases such as Malaria.

Between 1998 and 2006 new Malaria cases appeared sporadically in the area: 10 cases in 1999, 1 case in 2001, 2 in 2002 and 3 cases in 2005. These cases suggest an altitudinal and geographical expansion of the disease associated with climate change in the area that is modifying the ecosystems and creating suitable conditions for the development of vectors. As a result, areas in the high semi-arid mountainous region of Bolivia are becoming endemic for vector transmissible diseases.

In countries like Bolivia that have a high epidemiologic profile of contagious diseases transmissible by vectors, the human health vulnerability level to climate change is very high. In the specific case of Bolivia, this vulnerability is exacerbated by the existence of multiple ecosystems and microclimates with suitable conditions for the development of vectors in the country, as well as by the migration processes of people between disease endemic areas and areas that are not endemic. A preliminary evaluation at the national level estimated that climate change contributes to the development of 27.4% of Malaria cases (11.3% produced by P. vivax and 43.6% by P. falciparum). The assessment also established an increase in Malaria cases caused by P. falciparum since 1993 and in cases produced by P. vivax since 1994. The study estimated that Malaria will increase its endemic area between 12 and 20% over the next decade. As a preventive measure, the country has established a health network system with institutions working on vector transmissible diseases at national and local levels.

Over the past decade, the combination of climate change, migration patterns and other factors has resulted in the outbreaks of local vector transmissible diseases in areas that have never had these diseases before and are not considered endemic areas. Such is the case of Malaria outbreaks in the Lake Titicaca region (see Box). The impacts of such epidemics are significant given the precarious health system in the area, high poverty incidence, difficult access to communities, deficient building materials and housing infrastructure, and exposure to a new disease that is not typical of the region and for which the population has not yet acquired immunity.

Adaptation Options

Adaptation Strategies for the Lake Titicaca Region

Land Use Planning Mechanisms to support the development of Municipal Land Use Plans are assessed to establish a normative framework to use the land according to the soil capability, introducing sustainable practices, and incorporating risk prevention management.

Strengthening of Socio-economic Organizations Strengthening the capacity of social and economic organizations includes: primary production diversification with introduction of improved technology; seed management and phytosanitary measures improvement; introduction of new breeds of flora and fauna; water, soil and forest resources management and conservation; support from micro-credit systems; and promoting community participation to implement adaptation strategies.

Ecological Production Support is given for the development and consolidation of organizations that adopt eco-friendly production practices. To conserve and reduce the pressures placed on natural resources, capacity building, training and technology is provided to local farmers. Moreover, local production is enhanced to reduce food security vulnerability.

Conserve Water Springs, Water Courses, Wetlands, Pastures and Soil The local population is trained in conservation of water resources and is aware of the importance of improving the management system of these resources and ensuring their equal distribution. Water supply systems are improved for human consumption (coverage and quality). Synergies with other programs and projects working on soil and wetland conservation are achieved. Wetlands and pastures are used according to their carrying capacity.

Proactive Health Systems Management Local prevention strategies to reduce climate change impacts on human health are developed. Epidemiologic vigilance systems are established for diseases that are sensitive to climatic variability. Staff working in local health centers are trained to implement measures that improve the environmental health in the area and to develop research into this topic.

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