Standing at 4,000 metres above sea level on the Altiplano highlands, El Alto is the highest major city in the world, and the second largest city in Bolivia with 944,000 inhabitants – the majority of them indigenous Aymara. The El Alto–La Paz area is one of the most populous urban areas of Bolivia, with a total population of 2.2 million.
Once a dry plain and suburb of La Paz, El Alto is now a metropolis that grew too fast and is suffering from insufficient urban infrastructures, industrial pollution, and climate change.
Since 2002, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children, young people and families and advocating for their rights in El Alto.
Around 27% of child asthma cases are due to environmental deterioration. In urban areas around all of Bolivia, and particularly in cities like El Alto, the air quality is negatively impacted by environmental pollution.
Waste management and industrialization are two main causes – 23 per cent of waste is still disposed of by burning it across the country. The air quality limits set by the World Health Organization are often exceeded, which explains why 27 per cent of asthma cases in children under five years derive from environmental deterioration in nine urban municipalities, including El Alto.
The Altiplano basin El Alto is built on is an arid location where water is scarce. The city depends on glacial meltwater and has been impacted by drought in recent years because of the shrinking glaciers.
In El Alto, the effects of climate change create water insecurity by reducing the availability of drinking water and affecting groundwater, lakes and rivers. But environmental degradation is key on both an industrial or individual scale. For example, only half of the Bolivian population uses safely managed sanitation services where excretions are safely disposed of and treated. This water pollution is the case of many illnesses, especially in families living in poverty without access to safe water.