Accessing Adaptation: Multiple Stressors on Livelihoods in the Bolivian Highlands under a Changing Climate Open Access

McDowell, Julia Zea (2010)

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Smallholder farmers continuously confront multiple social and environmental stressors,
including climate change, that necessitate changes in livelihood strategies to mitigate associated
harms and take advantage of new opportunities, or adaptation. Vulnerability, meaning
susceptibility to harm, is mediated in part by limited access to assets, leading to greater exposure
to stressors and a limited capacity to adapt. Exposure and adaptation are interconnected because
exposure itself depletes resources available for adaptation, while adaptation to one stressor may
erode resources available to respond to future stressors. We present empirical evidence of the
process of adaptation to multiple stressors over time through a case study of indigenous farmers
in highland Bolivia. We examine how farmers perceive their exposure to stress on livelihoods,
their strategies for adapting to these threats, and the influence of past adaptations on vulnerability
under increasing climatic change. We find that vulnerability changes over time as stressors, such
as land scarcity and delayed rainfall, compound, demanding the expenditure of household assets
for adaptation, including water, land, labor, and financial, human and social capital, while
influencing access to those same assets. To reduce vulnerability over time, adaptation planning
must address constraints on access to key resources, allowing households the flexibility to reduce
their exposure and improve their capacity to adapt to multiple stressors.
The disappearance of glaciers due to climate change is impacting water supply in the
Andes, but there is little research on how this declining flow will impact water quality. The
community of Khapi, Bolivia depends on the Illimani glacier for its water. To investigate the
influence of streamflow on microbiological water quality, we collected 69 samples from three
points along Khapi's principal surface water source. We built a multivariate regression model to
test the association of our outcomes, e. coli and total fecal coliform organisms per 100 mL, with
streamflow, time of day, month, and sampling point. Streamflow was a significant predictor of
total fecal coliforms (p<.001), and a near significant predictor of e. coli (p=0.097). These results
indicate that water quality, in addition to water quantity, may be of concern given further
climatic change and associated glacial retreat.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Part I. Accessing Adaptation: Multiple Stressors on livelihoods in the Bolivian Highlands under a Changing Climate

1 Introduction 1

2 Unpacking Vulnerability 5

2.1 Adaptation and Multiple Stressors 5

2.2 Livelihoods and Access 7

3 Methods and Study Area 10

3.1 Methods 10

3.2 Study Area 11

3.3 Traditional Agriculture and Climate Resilience 13

4 Multiple Exposures and Adaptation in Palca 15

4.1 Social Stressors and Adaptation 15

4.1.1 Land Scarcity 16

4.1.2 Market Uncertainties 17

4.1.3 Institutional Marginalization 19

4.2 Changing Climatic Stressors and Adaptation 20

4.2.1 Water Shortages 21

4.2.2 Rising Temperatures 23

4.2.3 Climate Extremes 24

5 Accessing Adaptation to Climate Change 26

6 Conclusions 31

7 References 32

Part II. Disappearing Glaciers and Water Supply: Implications for Water Quality in Highland Bolivia

1 Introduction 40

2 Study Site 42

3 Methods 43

3.1 Data Collection 43

3.2 Data Analysis 45

4 Results 46

5 Discussion 50

6 Conclusions 51

7 References 53

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