Bolivia's highland city La Paz shrouded in smoke as wildfires rage

People walk amidst smoke caused by wildfires, in La Paz, Bolivia November 29, 2022. REUTERS/Claudia Morales

LA PAZ, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Wildfires near Bolivia's highland city and political capital La Paz have left the city shrouded in clouds of smoke, darkening the sky as local authorities urge residents to use face masks to avoid damaging their health.

The main cause has been forest fires linked to a lengthy drought and deforestation in the Yungas region to the northeast of the city, with dozens of active fires destroying citrus, banana and coca crops.

"We should be breathing clean air to improve our lungs, but the smoke does not allow us to breathe," said Gonzalo Quisberth, a resident in La Paz.

NASA satellite images show unusual forest fires in the landlocked Andean nation, with meteorologists saying the blazes are a consequence of extreme drought, delayed rainfall and deforestation for farmland.

"It is due to the burning of plant biomass, what we call in Bolivia 'chaqueos'," said Marcos Andrade, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Physics, referring to slash-and-burn practices to clear land for farming.

"Satellite images show a lot of smoke all over Bolivia, especially in the lowlands. But it is not only in Bolivia. There is also deforestation in Peru and Argentina, so it is a regional phenomenon."

Around the Andean region farmers have been praying for rains, with a third straight La Nina weather pattern leading to drier conditions that have ravaged crops.

"The delay in rainfall is because circulation patterns are not normalized," said meteorologist Marison Portucal.

"We have systems that bring a lot of moisture from the Amazon to our country and what is happening is that these systems are not present in the environment."

Reporting by Santiago Limachi, Monica Machicao, Liamar Ramos; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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