Climate change, poverty and adaptation in Bolivia

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Executive Summary

Bolivia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change for six basic reasons:

1. It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and suffers from one of the worst patterns of inequality. Low-income groups in developing countries are the most exposed to climate change impacts.

2. It is the country in South America with the highest percentage of indigenous people, where much of the poverty and inequality is concentrated.

3. It is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, with a wide variety of ecosystems that are vulnerable to different impacts from climate change.

4. More than half of the country is Amazonian, with high levels of the deforestation which adds to the vulnerability to flooding.

5. Located in a climatically volatile region, it is one of the countries in the world most affected by 'natural' disasters in recent years.

6. It is home to about twenty per cent of the world's tropical glaciers, which are retreating more quickly than predicted by many experts.

In July 2009 a team of Oxfam researchers travelled to three areas of Bolivia (Trinidad in Beni, the Cochabamba valleys and Khapi under Mount Illimani, in La Paz) to take a snapshot of how poor families are experiencing the changing climate, and how they are adapting to it. The researchers also interviewed key government and international officials, social movements and NGO representatives. The main findings and recommendations of this report are:

Main findings:

- Poor women and men throughout Bolivia are already experiencing the consequences of climate change, but in most cases are ill-equipped to adapt to the present and future impacts.

- The perception of many villagers and local farmers is that the climate is already changing in terms of the unpredictability of the rainfall, more extreme weather events and higher temperatures, with negative impacts for their livelihoods.

- Oxfam has noted that in recent years the frequency and magnitude of damage from the extreme weather events have increased. Women are often the hardest hit, as they are often the ones left to tend small farms and families, and have fewer alternative livelihoods when crops are lost.

- Bolivia can expect five main impacts as a result of climate change: less food security; glacial retreat affecting water availability; more frequent and more intense 'natural' disasters; an increase in mosquito-borne diseases; and more forest fires.

- Of these, Oxfam International is particularly concerned that poor women and men and indigenous peoples will be affected by the effect of unpredictable weather on agricultural production as this could lead to less food availability and/or higher food prices.

- Oxfam International believes that it is deeply unjust that poor communities and families in Bolivia and other South American countries are having to pay a high price for a situation for which they have virtually no historical responsibility.

- In the three areas visited for this report local people, and particularly women, are already experimenting with ways of adapting to the changes in the climate. The 'camellones' project in Trinidad offers a promising example of poor women using ancient technologies to find a way of improving food security, adapting to flooding and reducing deforestation.

- The government of President Evo Morales is beginning to take climate change seriously. However, it is still in the early stages of developing national policy and practical adaptation programmes. A major effort will be required to scale up the institutional, financial, and technical capacity to address the climate challenge.

- Oxfam International=B4s concern is that the opportunities being opened up by the change process in Bolivia to reduce poverty, particularly amongst the indigenous population, will come under severe pressure from climate change impacts.

- The establishment of the Platform of Social Organisations against Climate Change is a positive development to put pressure on national and international governments to combat the impacts of global warming. It is already having a major impact on government policy and awareness-raising.


A full set of recommendations is found in the Conclusions of this report. In summary Oxfam International recommends that:

- Delivering climate justice must be at the heart of a post 2012 agreement on Climate Change, in particular through rich countries committing to deep emissions cuts and ensuring a massive transfer of resources and technology to vulnerable countries. Annual public financing from developed to developing countries should be at least US$150 billion for adaptation and lowcarbon development.

- In the shift to a low-carbon development model, the international community should engage with and learn from Bolivia's vision for more sustainable approaches to development.

- Bolivia needs to develop and implement an overarching national policy on climate change, in particular by integrating climate change into the new legislative framework, which will implement Bolivia's new constitution. The government should also ensure that climate change is properly mainstreamed throughout its national strategies for eradicating poverty.

- Disaster risk reduction needs to be made part of long-term planning at all levels of government and institutional capacity in this area strengthened.

- An agricultural insurance scheme should be introduced in order to protect food security. This should be a priority for international adaptation funding.

- There needs to be a focused effort to improve water conservation, storage and management, particularly in urban areas.

- The needs and role of women should be at the centre of national and international adaptation policies.

- Access to weather information and early warning systems should be improved, in particular for agricultural producers.

- Social movement initiatives, like the Bolivian Platform Against Climate Change, should engage fully in promoting and shaping new government policy on climate adaptation and mitigation, and the platform should be further supported and strengthened.

- There needs to be a concerted campaign, supported by government and social movements, to raise public awareness on climate change and the consequent behaviour changes needed to address this challenge.