Bolivia battered on five fronts by climate change

Published: 4th November 2009

Bolivians fight to adapt in finance vacuum

Bolivia will be battered on five fronts by climate change, according to a new report published by Oxfam International today. The report underlines what is at stake at UN climate talks in Barcelona and an EU-US Summit in Washington today.
The report, Climate Change, Adaptation and Poverty in Bolivia, shows how glacial retreat, natural disasters, disease, forest fires, and erratic weather patterns could devastate a country which has done little to cause the climate crisis. In 2000, Bolivia was responsible for 0.35 per cent of world greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 16 per cent for the United States and 12 per cent for the European Union.

Fighting to adapt

It also shows how Bolivian communities are fighting to adapt to a changing climate despite a lack of international support. For example, poor communities in Beni are reviving an ancient practice of building raised fields called camellones to protect crops from flooding. Rich countries have yet to commit anywhere near the $50 billion in new money which poor countries need to develop projects like this.
The five climate threats to Bolivia are:

  • Glacial retreat: The glaciers in the Cordillera Real mountain range lost more than 40 per cent of their volume between 1975 and 2006. Glacial retreat threatens the water supply of thousands of poor Andean farmers as well as the water and electricity supplies for the cities such as La Paz and El Alto. Approximately 40 per cent of Bolivia’s power comes from hydroelectricity.
  • Natural Disasters: For the first time ever in 2007 Bolivia entered the top ten countries in the world most affected by disasters. Between 2006 and 2008 flooding, rivers overflowing, landslides, hail and frost affected over 618,000 people and cost the Bolivian Government between 3 and 4 per cent of its annual GDP.
  • Disease spread: In April 2009 Santa Cruz medical authorities reported more than 55,000 suspected cases of dengue fever and 25 fatalities. Higher temperatures were believed to have allowed the mosquito – which carries the disease – to spread to higher altitudes.
  • Forest fires: Up to ten gigatons of carbon is thought to be stored in Bolivia’s forests yet longer dry periods are likely to lead to an increase in fires and the destruction of forests. In October 2005, the region of Beni experienced its worst drought over 40 years. The drought, which was linked to rising sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, triggered huge fires that destroyed an estimated 500,000 hectares of forest land and pasture.
  • Erratic weather: Poor farmers are already struggling to cope with erratic rainfall – leaving farmers unsure of when to plant their crops – and insect plagues caused by abnormally high temperatures. Repeated failure of harvests means more and more people simply do not have enough to eat.

Poor people cannot afford rich countries' complacency

Oxfam is calling on rich countries to recognize their responsibilities, commit to reducing emissions by at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 and provide at least $150bn in new money to help poor countries such as Bolivia to reduce their emissions and adapt to a changing climate.
“Poor people across Bolivia cannot afford for our political leaders to remain so complacent," said Oxfam International’s Climate Advisor, Antonio Hill. “It is scandalous that the world’s richest and most polluting countries continue to resist doing what’s needed, and within their power, to tackle the climate crisis.
“President Obama and European leaders meeting in Washington need to take charge. That means putting new money on the table now. If there is political will in Washington there could be real progress in Barcelona,” said Hill.

Read more

Download the report: Bolivia: Climate change, poverty and adaptation
View the slideshow: How Bolivian communities are reviving an ancient farming system to adapt to climate change
Read the story: How can poor countries adapt to a changing climate?
Take action: Sign our petition on climate change

Poor people across Bolivia cannot afford for our political leaders to remain so complacent.
Antonio Hill
Oxfam International’s Climate Advisor

Notes to editors

Bolivians affected by climate change will be available for interview as well as Oxfam spokespeople from around the globe.