Climate Change Dries Up Nicaragua
The environmental organisation does not only blame the crisis on the impact of climate change that has been felt in Nicaragua since 2014 due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – but also the lack of public policies to curb the rampant deforestation.
The big forest reserves in the south of the country have shrunk up to 40 percent, according to a study by the British consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM), hired by the Chinese consortium HKND Group to carry out feasibility studies for the canal it is to build that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans across Nicaragua.
The environmental deterioration of the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda nature reserves in southeast Nicaragua was worse in the period 2009-2011 than in the previous 26 years, the ERM reported in 2015.
The study says that between 1983 and 2011, “nearly 40 percent of the natural land cover in southeast Nicaragua was lost.”
The non-governmental Humboldt Centre also reported 40 percent loss of forest cover in Bosawas, the largest forest reserve in Central America, declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1997.
Food security, a major victim
The impact of the drought has been felt in the economy and the food security of a large part of this country’s population of 6.2 million people, 2.5 million of whom live on less than two dollars a day and 20 percent of whom are undernourished, according to statistics from international bodies.
Organisations of farmers, stockbreeders and tourism businesses have complained about economic damages caused by water shortages.
For example, the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN) confirmed in February that the sector is extremely concerned about the scarcity of water in the parts of Nicaragua that account for at least 30 percent of the country’s livestock.
What worries them the most is that according to international and national weather reports, the drought caused by El Niño could last through August, when the first rainfall in 2016 is forecast.
And this month, the Union of Agricultural Producers in Nicaragua (UPANIC) estimated losses caused by the drought at 200 million dollars in 2015.
Nicaragua’s Central Bank, meanwhile, reported that in 2015, the drought affected hydropower production – the least costly energy in terms of production costs.
Sociologist Cirilo Otero, the director of the Centre of Environmental Policy Initiatives, said the part of the country hit hardest by water shortages is the so-called “dry corridor” – a long, arid stretch of dry forest where 35 of the country’s 153 municipalities are located.
According to Otero’s studies, the impact of the drought and the lack of water in that region, which stretches from northern to south-central Nicaragua, has been so heavy that 100 percent of the crops have been lost and 90 percent of the water sources have dried up.
“The measures adopted by the government are ‘asistencialistas’ (band-aid or short-term in nature) – water and food are distributed on certain days – but there are no public policies to curb deforestation in the pine forests in the mountains of Dipilto and Jalapa, and that is one of the main causes of the disappearance of rivers and wells,” Otero told IPS.
He said children and the elderly are suffering the worst food insecurity in the dry corridor.
“There are entire families who have nothing but corn and salt to eat. The situation is very serious,” said Otero.
The government, which has been the target of complaints for failing to declare a national emergency for the drought, has continued to assist families in the area, providing them with medicine, food and water.
Ervin Barreda, president of ENACAL, Nicaragua’s water and sanitation utility, said they send some 65 tanker trucks a day to the most critical areas, supplying some 2,000 families every day.
According to official data, in February 2016 there were 51,527 families in 34 localities who depended on highly vulnerable aquifers for their water supply.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes