Lake Titicaca, the freshwater lake spanning the border between Peru and Bolivia, has been a natural treasure dating back to pre-Inca times. The largest lake in South America, it is critical to supporting the livelihoods of 3 million people, who rely on it for fishing, agriculture and tourism. That makes it all the more alarming that this year Lake Titicaca was named the “Threatened Lake of the Year” by the Global Nature Fund and the Living Lakes Network—the second time it has received this recognition in just 11 years.
The lake’s current situation is grave. Rainfall in the Titicaca basin was 49 percent below average between August 2022 and March 2023, when the lake usually receives a significant amount of rainfall. Since then, water levels have fallen further because of an unseasonable winter heat wave, with both temperatures and solar radiation higher than normal, resulting in more evaporation. Meteorologists are forecasting dry conditions in the area to persist until March 2024 because of the ongoing El Nino weather phenomenon, which will cause lower flow rates on rivers that feed into the lake.
Procuring fresh water has always been a challenge for people in the dry regions of South America, like the high plains Altiplano where Lake Titicaca is located. The potential for climate change to worsen conditions is becoming clear. The United Nations has observed that Indigenous peoples are often the first to experience the impacts of climate change, and the situation at Lake Titicaca is a prime example. The Indigenous peoples that live around the lake—the Uros, Quechua and Aymara—have been the most affected by the decline in rainfall and the lake’s contraction.