Environmental authorities announced Friday that a devastating regional drought that has killed at least 20,000 animals in central-eastern Colombia now threatens a sizable portion of the country.
The Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) has classified seven states in the northeast and east of the country as “red alert” areas due to the prolonged dry spell.
The states of La Guajira, Magdalena, Bolivar and Atlantico in the north, and Meta, Arauca and Meta in the east, are all either experiencing or at immediate risk of acute water shortages and forest fires. Smaller rivers throughout the risk zone are said to be at “critical” levels, including those that feed aqueducts to major urban centers throughout the region.
IDEAM Director Omar Franco said that the Colombian Caribbean in particular is feeling the affects of the drought. “In the recent days we have seen that there is still some moisture in the southern part of the Caribbean area, but Colombia’s northern coast is going through a critical situation,” said Franco.
Emergency measures have already been taken in the state of Casanare and Santa Marta, the capital of Magdalena, but authorities are now asking that local governments throughout the risk areas develop contingency plans for the near future and institute provisions to ration water.
Franco explained that IDEAM had predicted just such a weather pattern as early as December, but that effective preventative measures were not put in place.
Experts have predicted relief in the coming weeks, with showers expected in the north and east toward the middle of April, reported Caracol Radio.
Franco said that authorities “expect these conditions to stabilise in May and the water supply to be recovered,” but that until then, steps need to be taken to ensure water supplies last.
Temperatures in recent weeks have reached as high as 105 degrees along the north coast of the country, where the government of Santa Marta has restricted discretionary water use for activities such as car washing.
Earlier in the week, the national government announced it would be putting together an emergency plan to deal with the deepening crisis, though no specifics have been released.