Bolivia: Water People of Andes Face Extinction
Condensed by Native Village
Santa Ana de Chipaya:
The Uru Chipaya may be the oldest surviving culture in the Andes, a
tribe that has survived for 4,000 years on Bolivia's barren interior
plains. Today, they face extinction through climate change.
The tribal chief, 62-year-old Felix Quispe, says the Lauca river which sustained them for thousands of years is drying up. His people cannot cope
with the water loss and erratic rainfall that has turned crops to dust and livestock to skin
"Over here used to be all water," Quispe said, gesturing across an arid
plain. "There were ducks, crabs, reeds growing in the water. I remember
that. What are we going to do? We are water people." [Now] there is no
pasture for animals, no rainfall. Nothing. Drought."
The Uru Chipaya's myths label them as "water
beings" rather than human beings. They are renown for surviving on the edges
of a salt desert by flushing the soil with river water.
As the Lauca
many Uru Chipaya have migrated into cities. Today, fewer than 2,000
remain in the village of Santa Ana and the
"We have nothing to eat. That's why our children are all leaving,"
said Vicenta Condori, 52. She has
two children in Chile.
Some tribal members blame the crisis on neglect
their gods, so the chief has lobbied for greater offerings and adherence to traditional
customs. "This is in our own hands," he said.
But scientists say rising temperatures
are melting Andean glaciers throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. A ski resort
in La Paz, the highest in South America, closed several
years ago because of the retreat of the Chacaltaya glacier. In 2007, the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that all Latin America's glaciers
could melt within 15 years. A new Oxfam report warns that within six years
the number of people affected by climate-related crises will jump by 54% to
"Indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of
climate change," said the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
Evo Morales, Bolivia's president
says his government would join indigenous groups for a "big mobilization" to draw up a successor to the
Kyoto treaty. They intend to push industrialised countries to cut carbon
emissions. "We are preparing a team from the water and environment
ministries to focus not only on the summit but beyond that."
With so many young people migrating to
Spanish-speaking cities, the Uru language could disappear within a few generations.
Some Uru Chipaya fear the battle for cultural survival could already be
lost. The rutted streets of Santa Ana are largely deserted. "We are at risk of extinction," said Juan Condori, 55. "The Chipaya could cease to exist within the next 50 years. The
most important thing is water. If there is no water the Chipaya have no
Bird photo: copyright Nick Athanas, www.antpitta.com
Native Village News
September 2009Native Village Home Page
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