Colombia braces for El Nino-related drought

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 25 July 2014 16:16 GMT

A firefighter douses flames in a forest hit by a fire in Cota, near Bogota, January 12, 2013. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

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Large areas of rice farms and cattle ranches have been hit by an unusually hot season

BOGOTA, July 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Colombia is bracing for an expected drought which could put lives at risk, destroy crops and kill livestock.

Vast swathes of cattle and rice growing lands, mostly along Colombia’s northern coast and eastern plains, have been hit by an unusually hot season and are already experiencing acute water shortages, putting pressure on food prices and raising the risk of more forest fires.

"According to the current situation, all the municipalities in the Caribbean region, around 120, are under high alert for water shortages and because of the impact the dry weather has had on cattle ranching and agriculture," Omar Franco, head of the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) told local media this week.

He added the extreme weather Colombia is experiencing is related to the El Nino weather pattern – the warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that forms every two to seven years.

A strong El Nino can wither crops in Australia, Southeast Asia, India and Africa when other parts of the globe such as the U.S. Midwest and Brazil are drenched in rains.

According to IDEAM, there is more than a 75 percent chance that the El Nino weather pattern will hit Colombia in the coming months and could last until March of next year.

Colombia’s Ombudsman has warned water shortages could put lives at risk as communities living in parched provinces struggle to cope.

"What's at risk is the lives of children, the lives of indigenous communities and for this reason we have asked the national government to intervene in 117 municipalities and 22 provinces, which are going to face problems in water services," Jorge Otalora, head of Colombia’s Ombudsman office told reporters.

As part of a package of measures announced this week to deal with water shortages, the government said funds were in place to drill at least a dozen new water wells, send in water tanks to the most affected areas, provide helicopters to douse forest fires, as well as agricultural subsidies to farmers.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists said in a report last year there are uncertainties about whether global warming will affect the frequency of El Nino, but said that downpours linked to the phenomenon may intensify this century.

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