Ecosystem and life around Lake Titicaca threatened by pollution

South America's largest lake was once worshipped by the Incas. But human and industrial waste are threatening Lake Titicaca's ecosystem and way of life, especially for around 1.3 million people living near its banks in Peru and Bolivia.

Photo by: AP Archive
Photo by: AP Archive

In this photo taken March 7, 2015, a man rows a boat on Lake Titicaca in Huatajata, Bolivia.

Tucked between snow-capped mountains along the border of Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca, is the largest freshwater lake in South America. For centuries, indigenous people have relied on it for food and income. 

These days human and industrial waste are threatening the lake's ecosystem, and way of life as a result of which the shores of South America's largest lake are full of dead frogs, discarded paint buckets and bags of soggy trash.

But the less visible threats lurk in the water itself: toxic levels of lead and mercury. The pollution has caused a rash of health problems among the 1.3 million people living near the lake's banks in Peru and Bolivia.

TRT World's Christine Pirovolakis reports.

Increasing concern about pollution has prompted a series of scientific studies and promises of official action.

A Peruvian government-sponsored study in 2014 found mercury, cadmium, zinc and copper in four types of fish, that form part of the local population's diet, at levels higher than those advised for human consumption.

The study suggested officials limit some fish consumption, but inhabitants of the lake area said they weren't warned about the study or told they could be consuming toxic fish.

In this Feb. 4, 2017 photo, environmental activist Maruja Inquilla holds a dead bird called a "Choca," on the shore of Lake Titicaca, in Coata, in the Puno region of Peru. (AP/Archive)

The governments of Peru and Bolivia signed a pact in January 2016 to spend more than $500 million to tackle the problem, though the details were vague.

A year later, Peru's new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, pledged to construct 10 treatment plants around the lake, putting the cost at $437 million, "so that the most beautiful lake in the world is the cleanest lake in the world."

But details of how the plants would be funded remain unclear and promises by politicians dating back two decades have so far gone unfulfilled.

TRTWorld and agencies