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Colombia and Ecuador experience droughts, power outages due to El Niño: NPR


The San Rafael Reservoir on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia, has been drying up since a long dry spell began in November and is currently only 16 percent full. Authorities in the Colombian capital began rationing water in April to help local reservoirs recover.

Manuel Rueda for NPR


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The San Rafael Reservoir on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia, has been drying up since a long dry spell began in November and is currently only 16 percent full. Authorities in the Colombian capital began rationing water in April to help local reservoirs recover.

Manuel Rueda for NPR

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Steven Ramos runs a cafe outside the Externado de Bogotá University.

But last week there was no running water in his neighborhood, so Ramos couldn’t use his espresso machine.

Instead, he made filtered coffee for his customers with bottled water he bought at a supermarket.

“A lot of people don’t go to their office or college on days without water,” he says. “So my sales are suffering.”

This year, a drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon has disrupted life in several South American cities, resulting in water rationing, power cuts and forest fires.

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, is built on a green plateau in the Andes and is generally a rainy place.

But a prolonged period of dry weather that began in November depleted the reservoirs the city relies on for its tap water, leading authorities to ration water in this city of 8 million for the first time for decades.

“It’s very dry and very hot,” says Natasha Avendaño, general director of Bogotá’s municipal water company, known by its Spanish initials EAAB. “Those two things caused us to have higher levels of water evaporation in both of our dams.”

Reduce showers

Bogotá’s main reservoir went from half capacity in September to just 16% capacity last week, according to data published by the city government.

To reduce water consumption and allow for its recovery, authorities have divided the city into nine zones, which are cut off from the water supply in turn, for periods of 24 hours.

Authorities are also asking people to change their habits, with radio ads asking people to limit their showers to three minutes and fines for those who carry out activities considered wasteful of water, such as washing cars in the bathrooms. streets.


Steven Ramos makes filtered coffee with bottled water on Wednesday, April 24. Ramos runs a small cafe in Bogotá, but he can’t use his espresso machine when the water is cut off in his neighborhood.

Manuel Rueda for NPR


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Manuel Rueda for NPR


Steven Ramos makes filtered coffee with bottled water on Wednesday, April 24. Ramos runs a small cafe in Bogotá, but he can’t use his espresso machine when the water is cut off in his neighborhood.

Manuel Rueda for NPR

Since water rationing began in the second week of April, the city’s mayor, Carlos Fernando Galán, has also urged people to refrain from showering if they do not want to leave their homes. Last week, he urged the city’s apartment buildings to turn off their large water tanks.

“We can’t just count on the rains returning,” Galan said at a news conference, where he provided an update on the water crisis. “We must reduce our consumption by changing our behavior.”

Climate experts say the dry weather in Bogota and much of Colombia is due to warming temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, known as El Niño events.

This meteorological phenomenon occurs every two to seven years and can have drastic effects all over the world, especially in South America, explains Andrea Devis, an oceanographer at the Rosario University of Bogotá.

“During El Niño, we get a lot of rain along the Pacific (coast),” she says. “But on the other side of the Andes we have no rain.”

El Niño wreaked havoc in other countries

The current El Niño episode began last June and caused unrest in several countries.

In Chile, dry weather contributed to wildfires in February that spread to the town of Viña del Mar and killed more than 130 people.

And in Ecuador, those responsible declared a state of emergency on April 19 and began rationing electricity due to lack of rainfall.

More than 78% of Ecuador’s electricity came from hydroelectric plants last year, but drought has diminished their potential.

In the capital Quito, most homes and businesses have been cut off from the power grid for eight hours a day for the past week – and traffic lights are not working.

Power cuts have disrupted production at large and small businesses.


A footprint on a dry section of the El Guavio Reservoir on April 18, in Gachalá, Colombia. Reservoirs around Colombia are at lowest water levels due to a major drought caused by El Niño.

Diego Cuevas/Getty Images


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A footprint on a dry section of the El Guavio Reservoir on April 18, in Gachalá, Colombia. Reservoirs around Colombia are at lowest water levels due to a major drought caused by El Niño.

Diego Cuevas/Getty Images

“We have had to cancel many appointments because power outages are unpredictable,” says Kelly Cuenca, a cosmetologist who works with hair removal devices at a beauty salon in Quito. “We rented a small generator but it only lasts a few hours.”

Oceanographer Devis says the power cuts show that governments in the region need to do more to prepare for extreme weather.

“We need to start thinking about other sources of electricity” like wind, solar and tidal power, Devis says.

As temperatures rise around the world due to increasing carbon emissions, El Niño phenomena are also likely to intensify and could lead to more intense droughts, according to Devis.

This means that governments will also need to invest in pipelines to move water from places where it is abundant to those where it is scarce.

“We have places with lots of water and others that suffer from extreme droughts,” says Devis. “We need to think about how we can redistribute our resources in the best possible way.”

Carolina Loza contributed to this story from Quito, Ecuador.

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