November 20, 2009

Drought Caused By El Nino Wreaks Havoc Across Latin America

El Nino has caused devastating drought damage across Latin America this year, resulting in a massive food crisis in Guatemala and water cuts in Venezuela, AFP reported.

An El Nino, which is an occasional seasonal warming of central and eastern Pacific waters, occurs on average every two to five years and upsets normal weather patterns across the globe.

While they usually last around 12 months, El Nino reappeared once again in June and Guatemalan authorities blamed it for the nation's worst drought in 30 years after it left almost 500 people dead from hunger since the beginning of 2009.

Officials said some 90,000 acres of corn and bean crops were lost.

Elisabeth Byrsla, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said El Nino prolonged the period of drought, which provoked a reduction in agricultural production, affecting around 2.5 million people.

Meanwhile, officials in Ecuador said the country saw its worst drought in 40 years. The government declared a 60-day state of emergency in the hydroelectric sector after water levels sunk in power station reservoirs.

In the capital Quito, daily five-hour power cuts linked to an energy crisis set off by the drought caused ice cream sellers to lose most of their produce.

In Venezuela, water supplies dropped 25 percent below the population's needs, forcing restrictions -- including cuts of 48 hours per week -- until May, when the rainy season is forecast to return.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez encouraged citizens to conserve power during nighttime visits to the bathroom by taking three-minute showers and carrying a torch rather than switching on lights.

Vicente Figuera, head of the Guarico Association of Cereal Producers and Cattle Breeders, said the drought affected between 70 and 80 percent of key crops, including maize and rice in the heart of Venezuela's cereal production.

Authorities said around 11,000 head of cattle in Bolivia died in recent weeks after nearly 50,000 acres of crops, including maize and potatoes, were destroyed in the south.

Bolivian farmers complained of going eight months without rain.

Hernan Tuco, deputy civil defense minister, said water levels in Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, fell by 5 yards.

Massive water trucks were dispatched to the worst hit provinces of the Andean nation.

Authorities said many indigenous populations in the Chaco region of Paraguay Elsewhere were affected by the drought.

Argentinean officials in the central and northern Cordoba and Catamarca regions said fires lasting several weeks burned through over 170,000 acres of land during the worst drought in 50 years.