In the first quarter of 2019, the El Niño weather phenomenon could reduce rainfall in Colombia by 80 percent, according to the country’s environment minister. This would cause major water shortages and help spread forest fires.
El Niño is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific. In Colombia it is associated with crop damage and flash floods, while in other countries it can cause intense rain.
The South American country, where the majority of electricity is generated with hydropower, suffered nearly a year of drought conditions between 2015 and 2016 which almost led to energy rationing.
“El Niño is maturing and in its maturity is impacting 90 percent of the country,” Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano told journalists. The government is working to prevent forest fires and avoid further deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon region, he said, adding that low rainfall may extend beyond the first quarter. He called on residents to save water to avoid potential rationing.
El Niño can also negatively affect coffee and banana crops, which would be particularly poignant, as Colombia is the world’s top grower of washed arabica coffee. Drought also generally causes an increase in food prices, with the potential to stoke short-term inflation.