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Drought grips Latin America and the Caribbean

Illustration for article titled Drought grips Latin America and the Caribbean

Zulia, Venezula, via

Severe droughts across Latin America in recent months have increased food and water scarcity and pushed some governments towards crisis. The lack of water has for some regions exacerbated financial and security problems and put pressure on the limited resources of national governments.


Puerto Rico announced earlier this week that it would implement a water rationing plan for 300,000 residents of San Juan, home to about half of the island's 3.6 million people. According to the Latin America Herald Tribune, the rationing will begin on August 6, and is conditioned on rain forecast for the coming days. Puerto Rico's Department of Consumer Affairs has already frozen prices on bottled water, ice, and other water-related items. The Agriculture Ministry has noted that the moderate drought that has affected the island for months has led to $20 million in damage to crops.

Puerto Rico's conditions are relatively troubling compared to the challenges faced by other countries in the region. Drought and mismanagement of water resources in Caracas has caused frustration among residents there. Delays in implementing rationing plans has led the Lagartijo reservoir, one of the city's main sources of water, to dry up. State water utility Hidrocapital is regarded as unresponsive and poorer residents cannot access private water suppliers like wealthier residents can. Petare, a hillside development outside Caracas and long a bastion of government support, has been without water for months.


Venezuela's water woes are more pronounced in the country's western agricultural regions. In early July, the Confederation of Farmers and Ranchers (Confagan) announced that production of beef and milk had fallen 10% over the last 8 months and that 16,000 cattle had died, due to intense drought conditions. On August 1, Confagan reported that in Zulia state a million hectares and a million animals were affected by drought conditions. A Confagan official added that 14,000 cattle had died since June 23. The decline in beef and diary production puts acute pressure on the Venezuelan government. Domestic production does not cover domestic demand, forcing the Maduro administration to import foodstuffs. Coupled with strict price controls, the fall in domestic supply drives up the necessary government outlays for food imports. In recent months, the government has curtailed some of those imports, compounding already rampant shortages.

Despite those challenges, the Venezuelan government has continued to support poor and indigenous communities in the region affected by the drought. After meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on August 1, the Maduro administration announced that it would supply basic food goods and other products to the Wayúu community, a nomadic indigenous group that lives in areas along the Venezuela-Colombia border. The goods would be supplied indefinitely and, it was reported, at Venezuela's subsidized price levels.


Drought conditions are also of intense concern in Honduras. Violence and insecurity there have triggered massive internal and external migration, and conditions have been worsened by a severe drought in the western, central, and southern regions of the country that could push 76,000 poor families into extreme hunger, according to El País. Officials have said the government is already helping 25,000 families with food supplies, and President Juan Orlando Hernández has budgeted $5 million to help those affected.

In Honduras, where 70% of the country's 7.9 million citizens are in poverty and 42% are in extreme poverty, the effects of the drought have been especially pronounced. However, drought conditions have struck throughout the region, including parts of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Guatemala's Agriculture, Ranching, and Food Ministry has reported that 40,000 families are effected by drought conditions, and Jamaica's Environment Minister has warned that the country's drought is intensifying, withering crops and drying up reservoirs.


Governments and regional groups have offered aid and support to effected areas. However, scientific forecasts have been mixed. The Central American Climate Forum has said that conditions are pointing to a resurgence of the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, which could lead to more intense drought or excessive rain. Other meteorological outlooks have been grim: only a hurricane or cyclone, like those that have wrought death and destruction in the past, can bring the water necessary to alleviate the present conditions.

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