September 18th, 2017


To water: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components.

The statement is one of the rights to which Mother Earth and her constituent life systems, including human communities, are entitled, according to one Bolivian law.

The highest country in South America has gained global attention for its Law of the Rights of Mother Earth  - Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra -  launched in 2010, which accords nature the same rights as humans.    
The ten articles law defines Earth as “a collective subject of public interest” and addresses sensitive issues such as the diversity of life, the water, air and contamination status, the rights for equilibrium and restoration.

Bolivia is all about extremes - climate varies drastically from one eco-region to the other, mainly due to its variable altitudes, ranging from 90 to over 6500 meters above the sea level, which allow for a vast biologic diversity. It is a multicultural country - there are approximately three dozen native groups totalling almost half of the Bolivian population, and most of them are concentrated in the Andean Altiplano.

El Altiplano is the largest and highest plateau in the world outside of Tibet. It is also home to Titicaca Lake, the highest navigable, and Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world. While such a high altitude sounds like a cold, barren and desolate place, it is actually home to a number of plants, animals, and many human settlements.






Because a large area of the Altiplano has an arid climate and barren soil, agriculture is difficult to produce. Alpacas and llamas have become important sources of food and wool for the people living here. In fact, herding and caring for these animals is one of the most common economic activities in the area, along with the mining industry, but the economy of the region is considered one of the poorest.  

Any form of life requires water and, particularly in this area, the water shapes the perspective, as the dominant vegetation consists of grass, shrubs and a specific type of wetlands - the High Andean ones.

One of the main services provided by the wetlands is the provision of water, not only for human communities living in the surrounding areas, but also for agricultural lands and a large number of threatened animals that find shelter here.

The big picture
A great diversity of high Andean wetlands exists, partially due to their different origins: freshwater lakes, salt pans, saline and brackish lagoons, peat bogs and bofedales. The degradation of these ecosystems gives rise to the loss of not only essential water resources, but also many other benefits provided by such environments.

The Andean wetlands were part of the monitoring services provided by TERRASIGNA in the impact analysis performed for the Inter - American Development Bank’s investments in South America. The scope of the service was to identify and monitor the change evolution in these particular areas.

Wetlands from six river basins located in the Lake Titicaca South-East basin were analysed, and almost 97% of their territories are distributed at above 3.700 meters’ altitude. The service implementation was based on various satellite imagery and processing technologies, and it provided:

  • identification and mapping of the wetlands outside protected areas at three moments in time - 2003, 2009, 2016;
  • change detection and analysis of 2003-2016 vegetation indices (NDVI) time series;
  • additional datasets were used for a broad approach of the local environmental dynamics: rainfall, mean air temperature, wetlands extent dynamics.

The study revealed that for the period analysed 2003 - 2016, the wetlands dynamics were on a negative slope, and some river basins were much more affected than the others.
The factors identified in this assessment have to be correlated with the ones from different case studies in order to understand the evolution of the whole area analysed. Urban and industrialised extensive development in cities such as El Alto, agricultural expansion and increased population density, all have a significant impact on the other natural resources changes.

The Andean wetlands are considered “highly fragile ecosystems” by the Ramsar Convention, as a result of both natural causes (climate change or prolonged drought on the Puna) as well as human interventions (non-sustainable agriculture, excessive grazing).

This is the third material in the serie that presents services performed in South America.
See also A la vida - Bahia de Cohana case study and Lake Titicaca - water quality