Thursday, February 25, 2010

El Niño throws a tantrum in Peru

Milagros Salazar in IPS via Tierramérica, from Lima: Peru's lack of disaster prevention policies and measures, combined with climate imbalances in South America, have led to the loss of dozens of lives and thousands of homes in this Andean country in the last few months. Excessive rains have caused damages in northern Peru, but the worst precipitation occurred in Cuzco, in the south, where a month's worth of rain fell in just three days.

…The changes in the climate are affecting the entire Andean region of South America…The region is seeing the effects of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical phenomenon in which the surface temperatures of the equatorial Pacific rise and have repercussions on weather around the world as the currents flow west to east. Most experts agree that the presence of ENSO triggers rainfall along the northern coast of Peru, and drought in the country's southern highlands area.

But, judging from El Niño's previous cycles, such as 1997-1998, it can also cause intense rains over short periods in Peru's southern Andean mountains, an area that otherwise tends toward drought, disaster prevention expert Pedro Ferradas, of the international technical aid group Practical Solutions ITDG, told Tierramérica.

The authorities have taken action on the north coast, but did not do enough for the southern highlands area, according to Ferradas. Although the rainy season in the Andes runs from December to April, what was surprising was the "ferocity" of the rain in just a few days, he said.

…Cuzco has experienced major urban sprawl in recent years, "and people have built homes in high-risk areas," a problem compounded by lack of urban planning and disaster mitigation work, Oxfam expert Cano told Tierramérica. As a result of decentralisation, local and regional governments are responsible for natural disaster prevention measures and emergency services….

The Rio Apurimac in a valley, shot by Bryan Dougherty, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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