500 years ago, Europeans set off to explore the world

In this file photo taken on October 12, 2004 a replica model of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan's 16th century carrack Victoria leaves Sevilla, Spain. (AFP / Cristina Quicle)
Updated 10 August 2019

500 years ago, Europeans set off to explore the world

PARIS: The expedition that circumnavigated the globe via the oceans for the first time 500 years ago is among the major journeys of discovery by European explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Bartolomeu Dias
With the mighty Ottoman Empire holding a monopoly on trade with the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century, Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator launches a quest to conquer the seas via Africa.
At the time the length of the continent’s coastline was unknown.
Less than 30 years after Henry’s death, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias leads the expedition that rounds the southern tip of Africa for the first time in 1488, opening a new sea route from Europe to Asia.
He calls it the Cape of Storms but Portugal’s King John II renames it the Cape of Good Hope.
Dias continues his eastward journey but his exhausted crew eventually forces him to turn back.


Christopher Columbus
Italian Christopher Columbus, determined to reach the East via a western route, makes four voyages across the Atlantic between 1492 and 1504, sailing for the Spanish crown.
During the first, he disembarks from his flagship, the Santa Maria, in the Bahamas in October 1492 and then moves on to today’s Haiti, which he names Hispaniola.
In another expedition he sets foot on the American mainland for the first time in present-day Venezuela, but is convinced he is in the East Indies.
It is only later that Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci realizes that the landmass that Colombus discovered is a new continent. It is named America in his honor in 1507.


Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama from Portugal becomes the first European to reach India via Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope discovered by Dias just a decade before.
He leaves Lisbon in 1497 and sails around the tip of the continent to reach the coasts of India in 1498.
During his second expedition, Da Gama establishes the first Portuguese trading post in Asia at Cochin in eastern India.

Pedro Alvares Cabral

Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral and his fleet of 13 caravels depart from Lisbon in 1500, on a southwest course to benefit from the trade winds, to discover what he calls “Island of the True Cross” and later becomes Brazil.
He then reaches the Indian subcontinent via the Cape of Good Hope, returning to Portugal laden with spices but having lost half of his fleet.
It is believed that Spaniard Vicente Yanez Pinzon may have arrived in Brazil shortly before Cabral but had not claimed the discovery.

Ferdinand Magellan

In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan launches the sea journey that will become the first to round the world, leaving Seville with five ships and 237 men.
They cross the South American strait that will later take Magellan’s name and reach calmer waters in an ocean that he names the Pacific.
The fleet pushes on to the Philippines, where Magellan is killed by a local’s arrow in 1521.
Spaniard Juan Sebastian de Elcano takes over command and completes the circumnavigation. He returns to Spain in 1522 with the last ship, the Victoria, and around 20 survivors.

Jacques Cartier

In 1534 Frenchman Jacques Cartier sets off on a mission under King Francis I to find a western passage to Asia.
Just weeks later he reaches the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and explores the surrounding territory that he calls Canada, after “kanata,” which means village in the local language.
Cartier claims Canada for France and makes two more journeys there, the last in 1542.

Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

Updated 27 min 24 sec ago

Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

LA PAZ, Bolivia: Water resources are running dry in the world’s highest-elevation capital due to the combined effect of the Andean glaciers melting, drought and mismanagement.
But instead of surrendering, the locals in Bolivia’s capital La Paz are finding new ways to tackle the changing climate.
The sky-high metropolitan area’s 2.7 million people have already been jolted by climate change: a severe drought that lasted for several months from 2016 into 2017 was Bolivia’s worst in 25 years, leading to water rationing and widespread protests in several cities.
In a sign of possibly worse to come, the Andean snowcaps — which have been relied on to fill the city’s reservoirs — are disappearing at a rate that has alarmed scientists.
In a gray and misty Valle de las Flores district in the east of the city, people are beginning to adapt to disappearing water resources.
There, Juana and her colleague Maria wash clothes for a living at a municipal wash-house, which is fed by spring water.
Public wash-houses — where the water is free — are becoming more popular, as residents change their habits around water use, getting their laundry done and escaping rising water charges.
“It’s true that there are more people coming here than ever before,” since water started to become more scarce, said Juana, as the women scrubbed and wrung-out garments for a fee of 20 bolivianos, or around $3 per dozen items.
In some neighborhoods, locals have become accustomed to storing rainwater in cisterns, ready for when the dry season comes.
The severe drought that lasted from November 2016 to February 2017 was blamed on the combined effects of the El Nino weather cycle, poor water management and climate change.
Leftist President Evo Morales declared a “state of national emergency” and tens of thousands of people in La Paz faced imposed water rationing for the first time, while surrounding mountains that were once covered in snow turned brown and barren.
The measures were expanded to at least seven other cities, and in the countryside, farmers clashed with miners over the use of aquifers.
As part of a contingency plan, Morales doubled down by embarking on a vast investment program in a bid to ensure future water supplies.
According to recent data from the national water company EPSAS, the government has spent $64.7 million (58.7 million euros) to construct four water reservoirs and supply systems from the lagoons of the surrounding Andean highlands.
The new systems will in part ease reliance on the Inkachaka, Ajunkota and Hampaturi dams that have until now supplied drinking water to around one-third of La Paz’s population.
The drought had left the dams almost completely depleted, resembling open-cast mines, and they took months to recover ample water levels.
Patricia Urquieta, an urban planning specialist at the University Mayor de San Andres, says that despite the hardships it brought, the drought did not lead to an increased collective awareness of the need to manage water resources.
Once water restrictions were lifted “this awareness of the need to preserve water fizzled out,” said Urquieta.
“There has beeen no public policy to raise awareness about water usage, even though reports show that La Paz could end up without water because of the decrease of water in the moutains,” she said.
UNESCO introduced an “Atlas on the retreat of Andean glaciers and the reduction of glacial waters” to map the effects of global warming in 2018.
It said “global warming could cause the loss of 95 percent of the current permafrost in Bolivia by 2050, and 99 percent by 2099.”
A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, citing analysis of satellite images, reported that “the Andean glaciers are among those that shrink the fastest.”
Between 2000 and 2018, the glaciers lost an average of 23 billion tons of ice a year, according to Nature
“When the glaciers disappear, they will no longer be able to provide water during the dry season,” said Sebastien Hardy, who is studying the local glaciers for the French Institute for Research and Development.
The Chacaltaya glacier — once the world’s highest ski resort — has already disappeared. Scientists said the glacier started to melt in the mid-1980s. By 2009, it had vanished.
The Inkachaka dam, a few miles outside the La Paz, is currently more than half-full, fed by snowfalls during the austral winter.
But the year-round snowcaps on nearby mountains, visible as recently as 30 years ago, no longer exist.