South America braces for damages as El Nino looms

Governments and businesses are bracing for the November arrival of El Nino, a weather phenomenon that lasts five months and that many fear will cause massive losses.

“We have been following reports of a special committee and things looking worse as time goes by. We do know it will be of a big magnitude,” Carlos Gonzalez, chief of economic studies of the Lima-based Association of Exporters, said in a telephone interview with the Latin Business Daily. “We have an economy in deceleration and with the coming El Nino the volatility will increase. Things look complex. In Peru, some farmers have already moved crops forward.”

El Nino last appeared in Peru during 1997-1998, affecting commerce in large areas of the country as the intense rains destroyed highways and bridges. Fisheries were particularly hurt as key species like anchovy temporarily disappeared with the Pacific Ocean warming. Recent production figures show fishing is already affected, Gonzalez said.

In Brazil, farmers may face stronger-than-usual rains from September to December, the critical period when most harvests takes place. The Sao Paulo region already had the most rainfall for the month of September in a 21-year period, with three times the normal average. The worst El Nino patterns on record were on 1972-1973, 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, the ministry said.

“This El Nino is classified as moderate, however the projections until November indicate a probability it will reach its highest during (December to March),” Brazilian meteorologist Danielle Barros, who was quoted by the Agriculture ministry, said.

Brazil has already seen lower-than-normal rain averages this year in the north and higher-than-normal in the south. 

In Colombia, the worsening of El Nino conditions that decreases rain and the increase in temperatures have contributed to the presence, as of Monday, of 43 active and 23 controlled fires that are destroying hundreds of acres of forest and killing animals, according to Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo.

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa warned this weekend in a special meeting that the dredging of coastal rivers has not advanced as needed to protect the country from El Nino and volcanic activity. Weaker oil export revenue complicates financing, he said.

In Bolivia, the chief of weather service of the country´s national service of meteorology, Gualberto Carrasco, said that he anticipates intense rains in months ahead though the full impact of the El Nino, which has already warmed Pacific Ocean tropical weathers by 2.2 degrees centigrade, cannot be forecast with precision, La Razon newspaper reported in September.

“We had a wet winter when they are normally dry. This indicates we will have a hot summer with intense rains,” he said.

A moderate El Nino during 2006-2007 caused the loss of $440 million in Bolivia alone, La Razon added.

Organizations in this Story

Peruvian Association of Exporters (ADEX)

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