Drought – Chile

The world’s driest desert is expanding south towards Chile’s capital. Santiago, a city of 7 million people 1,000 kilometres (622 miles) from the Atacama desert, is experiencing its driest year since 1966. Similar to California’s situation with the Sierra Nevadas, little to no snow has fallen in the Andes mountains that supply most of Santiago’s water.

“Climatic zones are shifting south,” University of Chile geography professor Francisco Ferrando said. “Santiago is likely to move to a condition of a desert or semi-desert. What is happening is probably associated with global warming and there’s no sign of it slowing.”

Santiago need only look 300 kilometres north to see how bad things can get as its drought continues for an eighth year amid record high global temperatures. Farmers in the once-fertile valleys of the Choapa and Limari rivers that lived for generations on agriculture are ripping up orchards, losing livestock and in some cases abandoning homes as wells dry and waterways slow to a trickle.

Near the origin of the Limari river, Paloma reservoir — Latin America’s largest for irrigation — is all but empty. Sluice gates are shut, the little water that remains doesn’t reach the dam and most of the basin is dry, cracked earth. The image is repeated 30 kilometres away where Cogoti reservoir is empty. Closer to Santiago, the Culimo dam is dry.

Around the river valleys, fields are filled with the stumps of once-productive avocado trees and almond groves. Grapevines are a thatch of dried stems.

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