‘If we don’t prepare, we are in big trouble’ Bolivia braces for scorching summer

In a heatwave that is worse than Spain’s summer, Spanish researchers say their team had to leave the country because of the extreme heat Bolivia’s scorching mountain summer has sparked calls for the government…

'If we don't prepare, we are in big trouble' Bolivia braces for scorching summer

In a heatwave that is worse than Spain’s summer, Spanish researchers say their team had to leave the country because of the extreme heat

Bolivia’s scorching mountain summer has sparked calls for the government to do more to prepare the population for the extreme weather.

“These are far from being normal days,” said Josía Samaniego, a spokesman for the National Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (INDH), in La Paz.

The extreme heatwave scorching Bolivia’s highlands has seen temperatures rise to 49.9C in the regional capital, Oruro, and its surrounding area.

“In contrast to temperatures of 50C or higher we are experiencing today, La Paz saw a minimum temperature of just 15C, so that is far below the normal summer temperatures in Bolivia,” Samaniego told the Guardian.

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People from La Paz to Santa Cruz, the most eastern tip of Bolivia, are suffering in the heatwaves caused by the arrival of the equinox on Tuesday.

In Oruro, where many people spend the day outdoors working in the fields, medical authorities and the local food cooperative reported that illnesses were on the rise, with rain failing to cool down the heat. The incessant hot weather has also caused fuel and power shortages, making it harder for locals to get to work.

With almost 40% of the Bolivian population working in agriculture, on the fields, and as manual labourers or workers in other industries, an extended drought often leads to frequent fires, says Angel Delgado, professor at Chile’s Universidad de Concepcion and coordinator of a university team researching Bolivia’s fire patterns.

Increasingly, these fires are sparked during lightning storms, carried by wind or rivers and blamed for hitting livestock and destroying crops. These fires can go on for months, sometimes burning down entire areas.

Much of Bolivia’s agricultural production comes from desert areas around the Andes and the higher parts of the country.

“If you think of the Andes, it is like the Mediterranean Sea,” Delgado said. “We have the Pacific Ocean, the Amazon, and now the wind and the high Andes. This is affecting the ability of the country to get the needed water resources to produce the crops and to maintain public health. The atmosphere, the high Andes and the desert link up. These conditions need to be taken care of and coordinated and planned in order to avoid wildfires, and this has been done by a small group of scientists in Chile.”

Samaniego said INDH had warned La Paz, Huanuni, Potosi and Oruro about the need to prepare for the heatwave. Schools in the affected areas have been asked to suspend school until next week. “They were directed to wear all white or parkas so that pupils are not exposed to the sun and also for hygiene,” Samaniego said.

“If we don’t prepare for the extreme weather patterns, we are in big trouble,” he said. “This doesn’t happen in Bolivia. This is a warning for us to prepare for the future and to prevent recurrent extreme weather.”

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