Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

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View of the Andes, which melting goes to the Incachaca dam, which supplies the city of water, in La Paz on September 12, 2019. (AFP / AIZAR RALDES)
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View of the Incachaca dam, which supplies the city of water, in La Paz on September 12, 2019. (AFP / AIZAR RALDES)
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Indigenous women wash clothes at a municipal laundry which uses spring water to save water of the public distribution system in La Paz on September 12, 2019. Harassed by climate change and water crisis caused by droughts and bad administration, some communities in Bolivia learnt to adapt to the scarcity of the vital natural resource, and others will have to adopt new habits. (AFP / AIZAR RALDES)
Updated 20 September 2019

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.


South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

Updated 14 October 2019

South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

  • Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in
  • The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long

SEOUL: South Korea’s justice minister resigned Monday, citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul’s liberal government and spurred huge protests.

Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn’t remain a government minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.

Huge crowds of Cho’s supporters and critics have marched in South Korea’s capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has deepened the country’s political divide.

Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho’s offer.

Cho’s resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a medical school in Busan.

“I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government with issues surrounding my family,” Cho said in an emailed statement. “I think the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution would only be possible if I step down from my position.”

Moon’s liberal Minjoo Party and Cho’s supporters, who occupied streets in front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday, have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.

South Korea’s main opposition party called Cho’s resignation offer “too late” and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.

In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was “very sorry for consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people” over his hand-picked choice but also praised Cho’s “passion for prosecutorial reform and willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done.”

Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite parliamentary resistance. But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of parliamentary elections in April.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long. “Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people’s voices only after his and his ruling party’s approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?” the conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.

In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when there’s no complaint.

Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents and carry out vendettas.

The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.

Recent polls indicate Moon’s popularity has sank to the lowest levels since he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon’s performance in state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.