The ecological catastrophe that turned a vast Bolivian lake into a salt desert
What was once the country’s second largest lake is now a salt flat and the vanishing waters are taking an indigenous community’s way of life with them
A boat lies on its side on the salt flat that used to be Lake Poopó. Photograph: Laurence Blair
The remainder of an ancient sea at the heart of South America is fast becoming a memory: a white expanse of salt stretches for miles, with just a smear of red, brackish water at its southern edge.
Lake Poopó was once Bolivia’s second largest body of water, but when asked how to get to the lake today, locals correct a visitor.
“You mean the ex-lake; the salt flat,” says Arminda Choque, 23, as she waits outside a mobile dental clinic in Llapallapani, a community of crumbling adobe-and-thatch houses inhabited by the indigenous Urus-Muratos, who have lived off the lake’s abundant fish since time immemorial. “I want my children to leave and go to college. There’s no future for them here.”