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Climate Change, Dams and Deforestation: The Bolivian Tragedy

By Carmen Capriles

I must share with you a little of the grief that we are suffering here in Bolivia over the past month.

Bolivia has endured the worst wet season in years, despite the fact that this has been caused by neither an El Nino or La Nina weather pattern.

58,000 families have already been affected, including 80% of the indigenous people living in the lowlands of the Amazonian forest.  At least 56 people have been killed.

Let's be clear. This is not just an act of Mother Nature. There are three major causes:

  • Climate Change
  • The Dams in Brazil
  • Deforestation




Bolivia is experiencing its worst rainy season in decades.
Entire villages have been buried underwater.

Climate Change

The average global temperature has already increased by 0.8 degrees Celcius. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have hit 400ppm and are rising, while humidity is up 4% since 1970, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These are not just numbers. As a result, we are having nearly three times more rain in the wet season.

We must stop talking about a 2C limit. Even an increase of 1.5 degrees will be catastrophic. We've estimated that by the time global temperatures increase by even 1 degree C, we may have lost the ways of life of 50% of the indigenous people here in Bolivia. Unless something is done, the tragedy we are facing will impact more communities than ever.

And then there's the impact on wildlife. A great number of species are migrating. A few weeks ago, a wildcat was hunted in a city where this animal had not been seen before. We have many more examples.

Brazilian Dams

The calculations for the mega dams in the Amazon and other parts of America did not take into account the possibility of increasing rains. They were largely based on typical precipitation rates. Now, water is stuck in Bolivian territory. The dams in Brazil - like San Antonio - have already passed their limits of 75 meters of water and the infrastructure of the Jiarou dam is damaged even though it isn't finished yet.


People here used to live in harmony with the forest and jungle. But now Bolivia has a deforestation rate 20 times higher than the global average: 300,000 hectares a year. That's why we have to abolish slash and burn agriculture, a practice that came with colonisation and which makes it easy to burn the forest and open land to new crops, in many cases monocrops.

We've strongly recommended that deforestation be stopped, particularly in higher parts of the basin like the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), where the average precipitation tops 5000 mm and is one of the wettest places in America. The forest in this area acts as a sponge for the extra water to keep the climatic system healthy, but efforts to build a highway and new coca fields have already left people feeling the impacts in the lower parts of the basin.

The Bolivian Tragedy

You see, we can not only blame climate change, but rather it is a fatal combination of causes related to a thirst for energy and the occidental way of life.

We are organizing a solidarity campaign with the Mosetenes Indigenous people. Six thousand people in their territory have been affected by the floods. They have lost almost everything. Children cannot go to school, they are living with water under their feet and two babies have passed away.

So now I ask for your prayers for our indigenous fellows in order to bring some hope to people who have lost the few things they had, their crops, their land, their animals and their homes.

And together we must fight climate change, deforestation and mega-dams, while working with the people and communities affected by these tragedies.


Carmen Capriles is founder and coordinator of Reacción Climática, a non-profit organization formed to advance the participation of Bolivian youth in finding solutions to climate change.  She is also a member of the Women's Major Group for Rio+20.


Additional Resources


Representatives of the Mosetin Indigenous Community traveled to an urban area to request solidarity support, following recent flooding.

Photos courtesy of the Organization of the Indigenous Moseten People (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Moseten)