“El Niño,” a weather phenomenon that will increase temperatures and decrease rainfall, is extremely likely to hit Colombia, according to meteorologists.
The chances of El Niño affecting Colombia have risen from 65% to 81%, according to Richard Lozano, director of the meteorology institute IDEAM. Lozano said the weather phenomenon not only poses a risk to agriculture and livestock, but also to water supply—many parts of the country will need to undergo water rationing, he added.
The threat prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to start a campaign to reduce water consumption in June. “Everybody should cut [their consumption] in half. Instead of sleeping and dreaming in the shower, save water. Start turning off the faucet.”
Yesid Caravajal, a professor at the Engineering School at the University of Valle, noted that in the past 60 years, El Niño has affected the country 13 times but warned that “with passing time there could be more dry seasons related to El Niño than wet seasons related to La Niña.”
Lozano said rainfall will not drop in all parts of the country, but he expects the Caribbean, Pacific, and Andean regions to be particularly hit. “The fact that we are announcing El Niño does not mean drought for the rest of the country.”
In the country’s south, for instance, rainfall has increased. In the Putumayo region alone about 20,000 people have been left homeless and 9,000 cattle have been killed due to flooding.
El Niño also increases the risk of forest fires, which have already begun to spread. In June and July alone, more than 7,000 acres throughout the country have been scorched.
Alejandro Ordoñez from the Unit for Disaster Risk Management said Colombia is not prepared to deal with forest fires. According to Ordoñez, many local governments have not taken the proper preventative measures. In a sample study of 537 municipalities, 437 of them—83%–did not even have fire departments. Twenty-two percent of the sampled municipalities also did not have a fund for natural disaster emergency response and 73% did not have a disaster relief unit.
Colombian farmers are also bracing themselves for the negative reverberations from El Niño. According to president of the Agricultural Society of Colombia (ASC), Rafael Mejia, the organization is preparing lines of credit especially for farmers to allow them to purchase the necessary equipment to face possible droughts in the country. Mejia estimated that in the event of an El Niño episode, food inflation could reach between 4% and 4.5% by the close of the year.
The El Niño phenomenon refers to a climate pattern that typically affects the central and eastern Pacific region every five years. Changes to the atmosphere near Colombia include unusually high sea temperatures, increased cloudiness and weaker than normal easterly trade winds.
Several of Colombia’s neighbors, such as the United Sates, Ecuador and Peru, are also developing plans for changing weather patterns.