While suffering a record-breaking drought, Colombia’s government revealed Monday that 43% of drinking water is wasted in the South American country.
The number is exceptionally alarming in consideration of the wildfires and widespread drought currently seen across the country.
Right now, nearly half of Colombia faces threat of water shortages and wildfires, according to the country’s meteorological institute IDEAM. A third of the country lacks sufficient drinkable water for the population.
Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo stated that the wildfires, instigated by exceedingly high temperatures and dry climates, have destroyed 94,000 hectares of vegetation thus far, affecting at least 300 of the country’s 1,100 municipalities.
Nearly 4,000 fires have been recorded so far in 2015 alone, and conditions are only expected to worsen in the coming months as El Niño, the weather phenomenon causing high temperatures and little rainfall, intensifies.
La Guajira, Colombia’s most northern province, is experiencing a rainfall deficit of 78%, making it one of the zones most affected by the drought. At the same time, La Guajira has been recorded as losing the most potable water in the country, around 82%, stated the National Planning Department.
No system in the country or the world can sustain losses of this nature, stated NPD director Simon Gaviria.
Who is to blame?
The large percentages of water loss generally belong to two categories: technical failures within the water system, and commercial losses originating from fraudulent and often undetected use, among other factors.
While water loss occurs all over the world, losing nearly half of potable water signals inherent systematic problems and a lack of management of water use in Colombia.
Infrastructure needs upgrades. Stricter forms of measurement must be implemented to avoid such high levels of waste. The system is thirsty for accountability.
The Ministry of the Environment began its part in the process by sanctioning some of those responsible for flagrant misuse. Thus far in 2015, at least one million people have been punished for squandering the precious resource, according to the minister.
However, the fines for excessive water use currently being implemented have not been sufficient to control consumption, stated Vallejo.
The current drought, compounded by malpractices in the exploitation of natural resources, deforestation and agricultural expansion, continues to develop into a humanitarian crisis in Colombia.
Water rationing continues to spread across the country, now implemented in at least 210 municipalities, including urban centers Cali, Ibague, Santa Marta and Riohacha.
Last week, Colombia’s government budgeted $4.2 million (COP13 billion) to fight the forest fires and drought that have hit the country as a consequence of El Niño.
According to the government, more than half of the budget is to deliver potable water to areas in the north and west that have been hit by unprecedented periods of drought. The remainder of the budget is for the country’s numerous fire departments that have had difficulty controlling forest fires that emerged as a consequence of the drought.
President Juan Manuel Santos along with several ministers and directors of the agencies responsible for emergency care will make an assessment this week of the allocation caused by El Niño in the country.
New plans in light of expected heightened levels involve the ministries of Environment, Housing and Interior as well as the Armed Forces, the Fire Department, mayors and governors and relief agencies, among others.