Updated 1 year, 6 months ago

With El Niño's intensity continuing to rise, LatAm gears up to face off

As water temperature around California and Mexico appeared about four degrees higher than normal in August, the El Nino phenomenon was worrying people again in 2015.

Rodney Martinez, director of the International Center for the Investigation of the El Nino Phenomenon, said on Aug. 25 that El Nino's intensity is continuing to rise.

"We are seeing an El Nino which is already strong and which will most likely continue to escalate. Its characteristics and size are currently similar to those we saw in 1997-98," he said.

While certain regions like California might welcome an increase in rainfall due to its four-year drought, the likes of Ecuador and Peru have no intention of being caught unaware this time.

Back in July, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala sought to get ahead of the curve by declaring a state of emergency in 14 of the country's regions, which was renewed again on Sept. 3.

Peruvian weather forecasters are predicting a "moderate to strong" El Nino in winter, but "a major climate event" could happen until late summer 2016.

Refusing to take any risks, Peru has cancelled its part of the Dakar Rally 2016, which was meant to take place in the country next January.

On Sept. 3, Peruvian Agriculture Minister Juan Manuel Benites made a direct appeal to the country's private sector to combine their efforts with those of the government.

"We need to strengthen the cooperation between government, businesses and citizens to face a phenomenon of such magnitude," he explained, adding that the government has spent 1 billion U.S. dollars on preventing El Nino since last year.

"We will not skimp on resources or efforts in order to mitigate impacts of this natural phenomenon in the country," he said.

The country will deploy 35,000 soldiers in emergency areas, accompanied by planes, helicopters, mobile bridges, prefabricated homes and water processing plants.

Across the border, Ecuador is also bracing for El Nino's arrival. President Rafael Correa said in late August that Ecuador would suffer costs from the climate event but that they would be minimized.

"We have a help system in place, with shelters, clean-up teams and flood control channels," said Correa. However, he admitted that local governments "had been a little lacking" in their efforts to date.

He underscored the need for joint action within Latin America as El Nino was already beginning to affect Peru, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina.

On Sept. 1, Ecuadorian minister in charge of security coordination, Cesar Navas, said that "shelters, generators and water treatment plants" would be distributed in vulnerable areas.

In Mexico, preparation has largely been muted thus far. While Baja California in the north might welcome some extra rain given its prolonged extreme drought, the poorer, southern state of Chiapas has been bracing for trouble.

In late August, the country's water authority raised El Nino's condition from "moderate" to "intense."

Shortly after, Chiapas' State System for Civil Protection activated preventive measures to combat El Nino, with a press release stating that the state could face torrential rains and forest fires due to the climate activity.

Furthermore, on Sept. 2 and 3, heavy rainfall in Mexico City broke a 50-year record.

Miguel Ricano, director of Sacmex, the capital's water institution, said that "in the last 50 years, we have not seen days with 100 and 75 milliliters of rainfall respectively." He estimated that 100,000 liters of water were falling a second around the capital area.

With weather forecast saying heavy rain from December to February could be particularly troublesome in Mexico, the American food industry has expressed concern that flooding could affect the amount of goods Mexico is able to send to its northern border.

Omar Losolla, director of sales and marketing for GreenPoint Distributing, says his company is "very concerned" about El Nino in Mexico.

"Excessive rain is especially damaging to tomato and squash crops. If it is constantly raining and the skies are overcast, it is not good for pollination," he told trade publication The Produce News.

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