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World Water Day 2012: water for crops

This World Water Day, 22 March 2012, we look at Bolivia's melting glaciers, which are leaving farming communities without enough water to grow the crops they need to feed and sustain their families.

Christian Aid partner Agua Sustentable is measuring impacts and piloting schemes like reservoirs, to maximise water usage in these communities.

Video: Bolivia's melting glaciers


The reservoir on the slopes below the Illimani glacier looks like a beautiful infinity pool, high up in the impossibly huge landscape of the Andes. But the beauty of the scene masks the increasing hardships and fears of the surrounding farming communities.

The community of La Granja is one of many which depend on melting snow from the Illimani glacier for the water supply to feed their crops. As the ice mass on the glacier gets smaller, this precious source of water is dwindling.

Families abandon their homes to migrate to the cities or other areas, because they can no longer grow enough food to make a living.

Guzman Alarcoa, who helped build the reservoir, explains: 'because there is no water we sow our seeds in just a few small fields, but it's not enough to feed us all year round'.

They have everything else they need: a good climate; access to the bustling markets of La Paz just over an hour away; and migration leaves plenty of land for those who remain.

Working with the community

Guzman Alarcoa from Bolivia

Guzman Alarcoa

When the rainy season is over, the stream of water from the glacier is their main source of water for crops. They share the stream with two other communities and only have access to the water for two days a week.

They never know what time of day the water will be there and often have to walk up the mountain in the middle of the night to collect it.

Local organisation and Christian Aid partner Agua Sustentable worked with the community to build the reservoir. This collects any rainwater and siphons off a tiny proportion of the water from the stream. It will provide the equivalent of an extra day of water a week.

Guzman says: 'It's going to help a lot... we'll have water there for when we need it. We'll be able to bring the water here for our crops.'

Agua Sustentable and climate change

'We have been chosen, it was like a miracle. They have helped us a lot. And we would like them to carry on helping us.'

Agua Sustentable work with communities affected by climate change as part of our joint programme with the UK government development agency DFID.

They combine scientific studies with projects on the ground, to provide immediate help. This allows them to make predictions about the future and ensure the projects will continue to help as the climate continues to change.

The reservoir is just one example of the relatively inexpensive pilot projects Agua Sustentable are carrying out.

These are projects that could be replicated in similar communities throughout the region supported by local or national government even by the communities themselves.



Read more

Bolivia: country profile

Bolivia: land rights march

Bolivia: the right to clean water

Agua Sustentable website

UN World Water Day website


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Issue:  Climate change

Country:  Bolivia 

Region:  The Americas