Native Village Youth and Education News
September 2009

 

Bolivia: Water People of Andes Face Extinction
http://www.truthout.org/042409F
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 and bones.

"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 dries, many Uru Chipaya have migrated into cities.  Today, fewer than 2,000 remain in the village of Santa Ana and the surrounding settlements.

    "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 375,000,000.

   "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 life."

Bird photo: copyright Nick Athanas, www.antpitta.com

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