Colombia — The low level of water in Colombia’s rivers has officials on standby to deal with the effects of a drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has helped wildfires spread and led to water rationing.
The drought in the Andean and Caribbean regions is the result of a combination of adverse factors, Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies Institute, or IDEAM, director Omar Franco told EFE.
Rainfall in September was 50 percent of the normal precipitation level, while El Niño has caused “a rise in temperatures of between 5 and 6 degrees Celsius (9 to 10.8 F) in some regions of the country,” Franco said.
The northern, southern and western basins of Colombia show distress and officials are especially concerned about some portions of the Magdalena River, which crosses the country from south to north, where “the situation is quite critical,” Franco said.
“We have issued a red alert for the Magdalena River’s main course near Barrancabermeja, because its waters are at levels too low for the season, close to 70 centimeters (27.5 inches),” Franco said, adding that navigation and fishing were being affected.
Water flow in the Magdalena River has reached “the lowest level in the past 15 years,” the IDEAM director said.
The other big Colombian river, the Cauca, “is also affected by the dearth of rainfall,” Franco said.
The Magdalena and Cauca basins supply water to 70 percent of Colombia’s population.
Numerous rivers in the central provinces of Cundinamarca and Boyaca, flanked by the Andean ridges and where droughts are rare, now show a decrease in their waters.
The IDEAM expects that the seasonal rains in October will help improve the situation, although it warns that there will be a “deficit” in precipitation.
The prospects are not good since El Niño is still growing and the “major effects of the phenomenon” will come during the first quarter of 2016, which is the dry season, Franco said.
More than 120 cities and towns, including Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, have instituted water rationing.
Environmental protection agencies have suspended access to Caño Cristales, known as “the river of five colors” and considered one of Colombia’s major tourism attractions, due to the low level of water in the area.
The lack of rain and the high temperatures have sparked forest fires, with about 67 wildfires currently active, a situation the Environment Ministry describes as “complex.”