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The El Niño weather pattern is having devastating effects in South America


The weather pattern known as El Niño is having devastating effects in South America. Unusually dry weather has led to water rationing and even power cuts. Colombia's capital city of Bogota is now rationing water for the first time in decades. Manuel Rueda has a story.


MANUEL RUEDA, BYLINE: Steven Ramos (ph) runs a coffee shop outside el Externado, a large university in Bogota. But today there's no tap water, so he can't use his espresso machine. Instead, Ramos makes filtered coffee for his customers using a large bottle of water.

STEVEN RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

RUEDA: "Many people aren't going to their offices or to the university on the days without water," he says. "So my sales are suffering."


RUEDA: Officials in Colombia's capital began to ration water this month by dividing the city into nine areas that are cut off from the water supply on a rotating basis. The drought has depleted local reservoirs and officials are trying to limit water consumption to give them time to recover.

NATASHA AVENDANO: It's been very dry and very hot.

RUEDA: Natasha Avendano runs Bogota's water company, the EAAB.

AVENDANO: Both things have led us to have higher levels of evaporation of water. And of course, people consume more water because it's been very, very hot.

RUEDA: To reduce consumption, Bogota officials aren't just rationing water, they're also asking people to change their habits.

AVENDANO: No car washing, no floor washing. We need to take care of every drop of water.


RUEDA: Climate experts say the dry weather in Bogota and much of Colombia is due to warming temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which are known as El Niño events. This weather pattern happens every two to seven years. And it can have drastic effects around the world, especially in South America says Andrea Devis, an oceanographer in Bogota's Rosario University.

ANDREA DEVIS: We have a lot of rain along the coast during El Niño, the Pacific rains a lot. But on the other side of the Cordillera, we don't have any rain because all the rain was poured in the Pacific Coast.

RUEDA: The current El Niño event began last June. In Chile, dry weather contributed to forest fires in February. And in Ecuador, officials declared a state of emergency last week and began to ration electricity because of the lack of rainfall. Seventy-five percent of Ecuador's electricity comes from hydroelectric plants, but the dams in the mountains are at historic lows.


RUEDA: In the capital city of Quito, the traffic lights aren't even working. Most homes and businesses are cut off from the power grid for eight hours each day.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).


RUEDA: Kelly Cuenca works at a beauty salon in the center of the city. She uses laser machines for hair removal procedures.

KELLY CUENCA: (Speaking Spanish).

RUEDA: "I've had to cancel many appointments because the power cuts are unpredictable," she says. "We rented a small generator, but it only lasts a couple of hours." Oceanographer Andrea Devis says that the power cuts show that governments in the region need to do more to prepare for drastic weather.

DEVIS: We have to start thinking about other sources of electricity - wind, solar. We also have marine energy. We have two oceans, and we already evaluated the potential of waves, tides, currents.

RUEDA: As temperatures rise around the world, El Niño events are also likely to become stronger and could lead to more intense droughts, Devis says. And that means governments will also have to invest in pipelines to take water from places where it's plentiful to places where it's scarce.

I'm Manuel Rueda for NPR News in Bogota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Manuel Rueda
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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