Located in the southern Andes of Peru, the Cconchaccota Lagoon has been a source of life for the region’s local communities, as the reservoir has attracted migratory flamingos and animals, while residents have depended on it to fish for trout.
But the lagoon, 4,100 meters (13,120 feet) above sea level, is now a plain of cracked and broken ground surrounded by yellow grass.
The rainy season in this part of South America should have started in September, but the area is experiencing its driest period in nearly half a century, affecting more than 3,000 communities in Peru’s central and southern Andes.
A light rain last week – only the second in nearly eight months – prompted residents to set up bowls outside to collect some water.
The absence of rain in part of the Andes is due to the La Nina phenomenon, which was present in 2022 for the third consecutive year, according to the United Nations Meteorological Service. The drought also affects parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.
In Cconchaccota there is no drinking water, sewerage or telephone service. People get drinking water from a nearby spring, although sometimes that also dries up.
Residents say their calls to local authorities for help went unanswered for more than two months. Last week, a long-delayed response came from regional authorities with the delivery of packages of fodder oats for the surviving sheep, cattle, alpacas and llamas.
“The animals are all bones,” said John Franklin Challanca, a 12-year-old shepherd whose family has lost 50 sheep.
The Andes is one of the world’s most sensitive regions to climate migrations due to droughts, tropical storms and hurricanes, heavy rains and floods, according to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Climate experts believe the lagoon could have dried up because it was less than a meter deep, relied solely on rainwater and was under strong solar radiation.
Wilson Suárez, a professor of mountain hydrology and glaciology at the National Agrarian University of La Molina in Peru, said these factors make “an ideal cocktail” for drying up the small lagoons in the high Andes regions.
“This should remind them that times are changing,” Suárez said of residents who have long depended on the lagoons for watering their livestock. “A drought is not easy to handle … the climate is changing.”