Dying crops, spiking energy bills, showers once a week. In South America, the climate future has arrived.
Sep 24, 2021 2 mins, 56 secs
But as a series of historic droughts deadens vast expanses of South America, he fears a worsening water crisis could do what other calamities couldn’t: Bust his third-generation agribusiness.

On the back of two years of drought-related crop losses, he said, the continuing dryness is now set to reduce his sunflower yields this year by 65 percent.

From the frigid peaks of Patagonia to the tropical wetlands of Brazil, worsening droughts this year are slamming farmers, shutting down ski slopes, upending transit and spiking prices for everything from coffee to electricity.

The droughts this year are extensions of multiyear water shortages, with causes that vary from country to country.

Yet for much of the region, the droughts are moving up the calendar on climate change — offering a taste of the challenges ahead in securing an increasingly precious commodity: water.

“It’s an escalating problem, and the fact that we’re seeing more and more of these events, and more extreme events, is not a coincidence,” said Lisa Viscidi, energy and climate expert with the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

Hot spots severe enough to cause widespread crop losses, water shortages and elevated fire risk are now present in every continent outside Antarctica.

The drought in Madagascar is being partly blamed for what the United Nations is calling the world’s first climate famine.

The latest climate assessment from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that one-third of global land areas will suffer from at least moderate drought by the end of the century.

“We are one of the regions of the globe where you can see that climate models coincide in their predictions, that by the end of the 21st century, we’ll have on average 30 percent less rainfall than today,” said Duncan Christie, a paleoclimatologist at the Austral University of Chile.

Agriculture Minister María Emilia Undurraga said some regions are registering rainfall losses of between 62 and 80 percent.

If conditions do not improve, Chile’s copper mining industry — responsible for 10 percent of the nation’s economic output, and heavily reliant on water for processing — could see a drop in production of between 2.6 and 3.4 percent this year, amounting to losses of up to $1.7 billion, according to Manuel Viera, president of the Chilean Mining Chamber.

Francisco Sotomayor, head of the Chilean Ski Areas Association, said seven of the organization’s 12 lodges opened late or suffered interruptions this year due to a lack of snow — compounding losses for a sector already hit hard by the pandemic.

In the department of Oruro, dairy farmer Demetrio Martínez said his family business lost two cows this year from drought after losing a total of six in 2019 and 2020.

Analysts blame a combination of the La Niña weather pattern, deforestation in the Amazon and climate change for what is shaping up to be the worst drought in nearly a century in parts of Brazil.

He said federal government agencies had been directed to cut electricity consumption by 20 percent.

In a country long known as a global breadbasket, where 70 percent of exports are food commodities such as soybeans and corn, the drought is slamming farmers — and the broader economy — just as the country is struggling to emerge from a recession made worse by the pandemic.

The sector is expecting losses this year of $100 million, according to Juan Carlos Muñoz Menna, director of the Paraguayan shipping industry group CAFYM.

Winston Ninaja, an onion and carrot grower in the province of Chubut, said water shortages this year have driven yields down by 30 percent.


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