El Niño Weather Is Leading to Droughts and Power Cuts in South America

A drought caused by El Niño weather patterns has disrupted life in several South American cities this year, leading to water rationing, power cuts, and forest fires. Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá, built on a green plateau high in the Andes Mountains, is affected by the dry weather that began in November, depleting the reservoirs that the city depends on for its tap water. Officials have rationed water in the city of 8 million people for the first time in decades.

Bogotá’s main reservoir went from half capacity in September to just 16% full last week, according to data published by the city’s government. To reduce water consumption and enable it to recover, authorities divided the city into nine areas, which are cut off from the water supply on a rotating basis, for 24-hour periods. Officials are also asking people to change their habits, with radio ads telling people to limit their showers to three minutes and fines for those who conduct activities that are deemed to be wasteful of water, like washing cars in the streets.

Climate experts say the dry weather in Bogotá and much of Colombia is due to warming temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, known as El Niño events. This weather pattern happens every two to seven years and can have drastic effects around the world, especially in South America. El Niño has caused havoc in other countries, such as Chile, Ecuador, and Quito. In Chile, dry weather contributed to forest fires in February that spread into the city of Viña del Mar, killing more than 130 people.

In Ecuador, officials declared a state of emergency on April 19 and began to ration electricity because of the lack of rainfall. More than 78% of Ecuador’s electricity came from hydroelectric plants last year, but the drought has diminished their potential. In Quito, most homes and businesses were cut off from the power grid for eight hours each day last week, and traffic lights aren’t working. Power cuts have disrupted output at large and small businesses alike.

Oceanographer Devis says that the power cuts show that governments in the region need to do more to prepare for drastic weather. “We have to start thinking about other sources of electricity” like wind, solar, and tidal energy. As temperatures rise around the world due to growing carbon emissions, El Niño events are also likely to become stronger, and could lead to more intense droughts.

Governments will also have to invest in pipelines to take water from places where it’s plentiful to where it’s scarce. “We have places with a lot of water, and we have places that are suffering from extreme droughts,” Devis says. “We need to think about how we can redistribute our resources in the best way possible.”

Read More @ OPB

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