Bolivia's vanishing glacier is a warning of things to come

Posted: 17 February 2010

"We don't have any more time." Edson Ramirez, a world renowned glaciologist, offered this grim statement on the demise of Bolivia's Chacaltaya glacier during a recent New York Times interview. Here Andrea Kobeszko puts the story of the disappearing glacier in context.

The 17,500-year-old glacier, once the highest ski resort in the world, officially vanished late last year. Millions of Bolivians obtain as much as 80 per cent of their drinking water from glacial runoff. Now water-starved families throughout the country are struggling to survive.

Most scientists agree that global warming is the catalyst for the glacial meltdown epidemic. A 2008 World Bank report estimated that climate change would destroy many of the Andes glaciers within the next twenty years, threatening nearly one hundred million lives.

Glacial evaporation is yet another in a deadly wave of weather events to strike Bolivia over the past few years, including soaring temperatures, droughts, storms and mudslides. Scientists believe that unless swift action is taken, Bolivia could be the first large urban country to succumb to climate change.

"Understanding global warming is key to forecasting and preparing for these kinds of weather events," says Rick Crouthamel, executive director of IEDRO, the nonprofit, International Environmental Rescue Organization. IEDRO recently partnered with El Salvador to help rescue a hundred years worth of historic data after fierce storms had left over two hundred dead and thousands homeless in the country. "By salvaging environmental data in countries like Bolivia, and making it available to researchers, we can greatly expand our ability to predict the impact of global warming and take preventative measures."

Bolivia was a loud voice at the international climate meeting in Copenhagen. Its pleas for funding and resources resonated among other third world countries in attendance

"Bolivia's plight is in not an isolated incident," Rick Crouthamel adds. "Our environment is clearly changing, and the human population is struggling to cope. Action must be taken, and it must be taken now."

Edson Ramirez may have said it best. We don't have any more time.

Andrea Kobeszko is on the staff of IEDRO. To see the New York Times video on Bolivia's disappearing glaciers, click here.

To learn more about IEDRO, click here:www.iedro.org