Chile faces the largest mega-drought in its history: ‘Our country has changed forever’

It is another earthquake. A different and silent one. It affects agriculture, livestock and also endangers human consumption. Chile accumulates thirteen years of worst drought of its history, driven by global warming. The water deficit last year averaged a 60% in all the country. The numbers projected for the past decade as a whole are worse: around 90%.

To understand how the water system works in Chile, it is important to begin by pointing out that Chile is defined as a mountainous country. Its water sources are two, mainly: on the one hand the reservoirs in the basins of the hills, which allows its accumulation.

For another, snow accumulation. Among the accumulated snow there are snowfalls that occurred up to 10 years ago. However, as a result of the constant drought, these snow reserves they are running out

The former director of the climate change program of the Ministry of Agriculture, María José Soublette, explained to Clarion which was also observed a change in how rains occur in Chile. “If before there were prolonged periods of rain, today intense precipitation is generated for short periods. That creates a false sense that it is still raining, but that rain is not that useful,” he noted.

Soublette explains that this has led to agriculture having to modify its way of production. “If before it was enough to pass the plow and sow, today that is not possible. Planting today must be done after digging deeply into the earth, because if the soils are not worked, they will not absorb these waters that fall in a short period of time”, he explains.

The last rainy winter
The figures are decisive. The last rainy winter on record dated 2006, and from 2012 to the present, most of the territory has presented rainfall scarcity, reports the Meteorological Service of the neighboring country.

For its part, the General Directorate of Waters (DGA) pointed out that during the last ten years, the central area has shown sustained lack of rainfall, registering in 2019, a deficit of 76% of what is considered a normal year. In December 2019, 79 communes are under the category of “water scarcity area”.

The “National Water Balance” that for the period 2030-2060, the availability of water in the north and center of Chile could decrease by more than 50%. That is, the current mega-drought could eventually become a new normal: “Climate change is here to stay, our country has changed forever,” says Soublette.

Beyond agriculture: human consumption in danger. What began, more than a decade ago, as a concern of the agri-food industry, in recent months has led to a widespread concern in the urban centers.

Reservoirs, another form of water supply, have supply levels that are approaching critical points. Much of the water they consume depends on them, for example, more than 7 million inhabitants in Santiago, the country’s capital.

alert plan
For the same reason, the Metropolitan Governor, Claudio Orrego, presented an alert plan in the face of water scarcity. Green, yellow, orange and red alerts are set. In the last one, there would be water cuts every 6 and 12 days by sectors in the city.

Today Santiago is on yellow alertbut the authorities have already indicated that, if they do not have a winter with precipitation, the possibility of reaching a red alert for next summer is a real possibility.

There are hundreds of rural towns that already depend on the use of trucks that transport water for consumption. In total, more than 400,000 Chileans, distributed in rural or semi-urbanized sectors, from 175 communes, different They receive their water through trucks.

In the short term, expectations are not good. Chile, with a Pacific coast, cyclically receives oceanic phenomena “Little boy” and the girl”. Both are changes in the atmospheric circulation that can affect the climate in various parts of the world in a more or less extreme way, depending on their intensity.

While El Niño is associated with rainfallin the case of Chile, La Niña is associated with drought. For the third consecutive year, the second phenomenon will be generated, something that has not happened since 2002, since El Niño is – or was, before climate change – much more common than La Niña.

Thus, the projection of the year for Chile is not positive. There is a real risk that the drought will increase and, with it, the possibility of human rationing will end up becoming a reality.

The country is exploring speeding up the development of desalination plants along its entire coast. An operation that involves several billion dollars and that the country intends to spend over the next few years to at least ensure water for its inhabitants.

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