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Bolivia’s Tuni glacier is disappearing – and so is the water it supplies

Bolivia’s Tuni glacier is disappearing faster than initially anticipated, according to scientists in the Andean nation, a predicament that will likely add to the water shortages already plaguing the capital La Paz, just 60 miles (111 km) away.

Scientists from the Universidad Mayor de San Andres (UMSA), who monitor the Tuni and other regional glaciers, told Reuters the once sprawling glacier had been reduced to just one square kilometre.

Where once they had predicted it would last through 2025, now they say its disappearance is imminent.

Across much of the icy field, now only discoloured rock – exposed for the first time in centuries – remains.

Though the glacier has been receding since the Little Ice Age, when massive ice fields topped many Andean mountains, the fast-changing climate has accelerated the process, according to the Bolivian scientists.

Torrential rains and drought have become more common, and mountain snows less predictable, they said.

The changing climate and fast-disappearing glaciers have coincided with a move from the countryside to the cities of Bolivia, pressuring already frail water sources.

Farmers who grow quinoa in the town of Viacha, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the city of La Paz, say their crop has suffered.

Meanwhile, El Alto, the city sister to the capital La Paz, is growing at approximately 5% per year, according to glacier scientist Ramirez.

While the populations located at the foot of the Andes do not depend entirely on water from Bolivia’s high Andean glaciers, the mountain ice has fed rivers used for irrigation of crops and at least 20% of La Paz’ water supply, the scientists say.

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