The El Niño weather phenomenon has put Colombia on alert for water shortages and the risk of fires, and has already begun to affect agriculture.
“El Niño has manifested itself with little rainfall in the Caribbean and Andean regions, where 75 per cent of Colombia’s population lives, and with an increase in forest fires and heatwaves,” said Humberto Gonzalez, the head of forecasts and alerts at the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM).
An IDEAM report notes that El Niño arrived in May with the warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, and in June had increased the water level by half a degree, reports press agency EFE.
“The second rainy season of October to December will [be deficient],” said Gonzalez.
The technical and administrative assistant of the National Farmers Federation of Grains and Legumes (Fenalce), Carlos Molina Gomez, said that “the lack of rain combined with high temperatures could have a terrible effect on agriculture.
“Normally September is the month of planting; some people have sown seeds and the crop has been lost, and others have not sown at all. If the weather continues as it has, it is going to drastically reduce sowing areas,” added Molina.
Although losses losses in agricultural production have not yet been made official, Molina said that over the first half of the year yields had fallen by between 15 and 20 per cent in some regions.
“What we do know is that they are lagging, and that could be affecting the total area for planting in the second half [of the year],” he said.
In typically hot cities like Cúcuta (northeast), Riohacha (north) and Valledupar (north) in September temperatures reached 40 degrees, while in temperate cities like Medellin (northwest), Pereira (east) and Cali (southwest), temperatures exceeded 30 degrees, representing an increase of two and three degrees above normal.
The decrease in rainfall coupled with high temperatures led to a deficit in soil moisture and vegetation cover, which sparked the alert against possible forest fires in the departments of Valle del Cauca, Tolima, Santander and Cundinamarca.
Since the beginning of September, emergency forest fires have already been reported in 160 municipalities in 24 departments, according to the Risk Management Division. In Huila in 6,088 hectares were burnt, 3,535 in Tolima, 2,780 in Valle del Cauca, and1,155 in Cundinamarca.
IDEAM warned in August that Colombia is one of the countries of the world hardest hit by the El Niño and La Niña phenomenons, as it is located in an area of direct influence of the warming of Pacific waters. According to the institute, the weather changes “are becoming periodic when before they were not,” in Colombia, and that El Niño is forecast to remain in effect until the end of March 2010.