Peru, Bolivia leaders struggle against severe drought

Monday, November 28, 2016

Peru's government has extended a state of emergency in the northern Andes in the face of the worst drought in over a decade, while in neighboring Bolivia, President Evo Morales is literally praying for rain.

The Peruvian national water authority (ANA) declared a state of emergency in Piura region, as a long-overdue rainy season appears to be nowhere in sight, agriculture minister José Manuel Hernández said. Moquegua and part of Arequipa region to the south have already received emergency status, which may be extended to Lambayeque to the north, he said.

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"The lack of rain and climate change are causing drought, not just in Piura, but in other regions of the coast, highlands and jungle," Hernández told reporters in Lima. "This is why we are studying what actions we will take in the next few days."

While the lack of rain is delaying crop planting and forcing farmers to slaughter their cattle, the drought has also sparked 43 massive forest fires that have destroyed at least 9,000ha of forests around the country, according to the environment ministry.

Brigades of firefighters and volunteers have brought most of the fires under control, environment minister Elsa Galarza said. The fires are largely caused by uncontrolled slash-and-burn agriculture, Galarza added.

The lack of rain in the region this year has also caused blackouts in Venezuela and diminished farmers' harvests from Ecuador to Brazil as the region faces the La Niña phenomenon, where cooler ocean temperatures cause drought in the highlands. The El Niño phenomenon, which causes warmer sea temperatures, caused flooding in much of South America last year.


In neighboring Bolivia, meanwhile, President Morales took part in ancient Aymara rituals including rain dances to beseech Andean deities for rain, La Paz-based newspaper La Razón reported.

His government earlier this month last declared a national emergency and sacked state water officials for failing to warn the government about the lack of water supply in La Paz, the capital city of 800,000 inhabitants.

State water company Epsas extended water rationing in the capital to 150 neighborhoods, where water availability is restricted to three hours per day, according to La Razón. Water services are not expected to return to normal in La Paz until 2018, the newspaper cited Epsas CEO Victor Hugo Rico as saying.

The government, which earlier this year announced a US$158mn investment program in water and irrigation projects, is working on the Hampaturi Alto and Peñas reservoirs outside La Paz, environment and water minister Alexandra Moreira said. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is helping to finance the projects, Moreira said.

While President Morales has pledged US$48.6bn in infrastructure and energy investments over the next five years, his government is struggling to line up financing as economic growth slows. Bolivia, which depends on natural gas for half its export revenue, saw hydrocarbon revenue plunge 50.8% to US$1.1bn in the first half of this year.

Morales allocated US$6.40bn to public spending in 2016, compared with US$6.18bn last year. The country, which allocated US$2.5bn to infrastructure projects in 2015, earmarked 30% of this year's budget to infrastructure.