Tag Archives: UV radiation

How Dangerous is Bolivia? pt.1

16 Jun

I am scratching like a dog with my second bout of fleas/bedbugs in Bolivia.   Bolivia’s been punishing my health…there was the 3 months of not pooing properly, the scars from scratching from bedbug incident #1, the constantly dry skin from the dry air.  This got me thinking:  exactly how dangerous is Bolivia for one’s health?  Well, there’s the malaria in the Amazon in the north, the yellow-fever, the TB risks, but the lurking danger in Bolivia is UV radiation.

Bolivia is pretty freaking close to the sun.  Along with boasting the highest average altitude in S.America, it also has the highest airport in the world (El Alto), the highest capital in the world (La Paz…but this a bit controversial b/c if you ask Bolivians, Sucre is really the capital of Bolivia), the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world (Lake Titicaca), and the third highest city in the world (Potosi).  So, as I’m freezing my ass off in what is only the beginning of winter in La Paz (temperatures will regularly drop below zero beginning next month…and there’s no heating here), my skin is also burning off from the beating sun.  Case in point:  It is 37 F as I lie here typing at 11:34 p.m. and it will be 60 F tomorrow but feel like 90 F in the sun.

The lowest UV radiation in Bolivia comes during the winter at 8, what is classified on the UV index in red as “very high risk of harm” and is similar to the radiation levels of most cities in the U.S. during the summer.  During spring and summer, UV radiation ranges from 12-14, which is “extreme.”   This puts Bolivia on par with Australia when it comes to risk in skin cancer.  Also, Bolivia, along with Tibet, has one of the higher instances of cataracts due to the intense exposure to sun (sorry for the general fact–couldn’t find a stat more specific than “higher incidence of cataracts” on the internet).  So what does this mean for tourists?  Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen higher than 25 SPF.  Yes, I was putting on 15 and it wasn’t cutting it.

But the good news is that that sunglasses here are fairly cheap.  You can get the one of the streets for $4 (no guarantees of the validity of the UV protection) or one in the optical stores from $25 – $50.