Boliva, South America
The Plurinational State of Bolivia is one of the most culturally and geographically diverse countries in the world. Bolivia embraces the over 37 population groups, each with their own culture and language1. While it is the most indigenous nation (60% of total population) in all of the Americas1, Bolivia is also regarded as South America’s poorest country2. Widespread poverty, a relentlessly changing climate, and a landlocked geography constitute several of the reasons contributing to why Hands Across the Nations has focused on this country. The indigenous communities that are partnered with HATN are located in the Andean region near the Departments of Oruro and Cochabamba.
VIDEO! HATN in Bolivia
It has been 25 years since Bolivia last experienced a drought this severe, with supply reservoirs reaching their lowest levels on record3. A significant body of water, Lake Poopo – which has been relied on by indigenous populations for thousands of years – has now dried up. Over the last decade and a half, annual precipitation has fallen by 20%4. Many areas of Bolivia, especially within the more mountainous regions among the Andes, are experiencing harsh desertification climate change.
Drought is affecting many people in Bolivia, primarily in the eastern and southern regions. Some estimations claim that over 170,000 families have been impacted5. In the nation’s capital, La Paz, two of the three water supply reservoirs were operating at 5% and 1% capacity in early 20173. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene statistics suggest that only 78.86% of the rural population in Bolivia have access to basic drinking water services6.
Bolivia has had a controversial history with respect to water policy, specifically relating to the privatization of public utilities that took place during the 90s. Click here to learn more. Overall, water in Bolivia is scarce and poor past policy decisions have had lasting consequences which have led to extended conditions of inaccessibility and unaffordability – both which strongly contribute to perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty.
Health and poverty are intricately linked and negatively correlated. The high proportion of Bolivians living in impoverished conditions (60%) has translated into incredibly high rates of infant mortality7. Statistics from 2003 show that infant mortality “…reached 66 [deaths] per 1,000 [births], 2.5 times more than the average rate for the Latin-America region…unregistered child deaths are believed to be as high as 63 percent”7. According to the WHO, many of these deaths are preventable, such as those from diarrheal disease and pneumonia7.
Many other diseases present a significant risk to those living in Bolivia because of the drastic economic inequality that is pervasive throughout the country. Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever, and Chagas’ disease are among those presenting significant public health problems and the situation is especially dire for small, isolated indigenous communities with little access to health care. The WHO reports that indigenous populations have exhibited an “incidence of tuberculosis… 5 to 8 times higher than the national average and…indigenous women suffer from poor reproductive and family planning conditions, characterized by early and multiple pregnancies among other factors”7.
In recent years, the prioritizing and restructuring of the Bolivian national health care system has led to significant improvements. In 2016, deaths per live births had reportedly decreased to 24 per 1,000, down from the aforementioned 668. Although government programs and policies, led by indigenous leader Evo Morales, have made a remarkable impact, there remains much work to be done prior to the realization of Morales’ recent plan promising “for the people” free universal healthcare9.
The education system in Bolivia is composed of a formal and non-formal sector. The formal sector is split into pre-primary, primary, secondary, and higher education levels11. The structure and reliability of a formal sector, however, does not typically reach the more rural and isolated indigenous communities and the levels are seldom followed through to completion. This can be attributed to several factors, including an absence of facilities or educational spaces, a lack of teachers or educators, a lack of motivation among children and youth, and a low percentage of children who can afford the time to attend school – this is especially the case for young women and girls11.
Like healthcare, poverty and economic inequality significantly impact access to education. Gender inequality also often plays a role. To provide an example, according to UNICEF, a girl in the Amazon region averages only two years of schooling in comparison with 14.4 years for a boy from a wealthy, urban region1. That being said, nationwide, successful completion of primary school has increased significantly within the past decade. In 2008, the Education Policy and Data Center cited that 18% of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 did not finish primary school12. In 2011, that number decreased to 10%1. Although, in 2011, it was also found that secondary school completion rate was a mere 56%1.
The achievements of 2011 were situated in a period when Bolivia’s Ministry of Education and Cultures declared adopting education principles where “Bolivia moves forward”. This involves “broader access to public education in rural Bolivia, the development of new regional targeted learning strategies, and the promotion of a ‘new revolutionary, productive, communitarian, decolonized’ vision of education in Bolivia”10. Although it is expected that progression continues, efforts will need to extend beyond the government in order to realize such a vision.
Capital City: La Paz
Adult Literacy Rate: 95.7%
Life Expectancy: 68.7 yr (129th)
GNI: $6,155 (122nd)
HDI: 0.674 (118th)
HDI Classification: ‘Medium’
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