The Caribbean is currently facing the worst drought we have ever seen in five years. This is prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer.
From Puerto Rico to Cuba to the island of St. Lucia, crops are withering, reservoirs are drying up and cattle are dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only grow worse in the coming months.
All thanks to El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather, forecasters expect the hurricane season that began in June to be quieter than normal, with shorter periods of rain.
Puerto Rico is among the Caribbean islands worst hit by the water shortage, with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought so far, the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center says. The amount of water flowing into 12 of at least 22 rivers that supply the island’s reservoirs is at an all-time historic low, the Department of Natural Resources reported Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of people receive water only every third day under strict rationing recently imposed by the island government. Puerto Rico last week also activated National Guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use. In St. Lucia, which has been especially hit hard, farmers are saying that their crops including coconuts, cashews and oranges are withering. Some persons have not been receiving water for weeks on end. Anthony Herman from Saint Lucia said, “the outlook is very, very bad. “The trees are dying, the plants are dying … It’s stripping the very life of rivers.”
The last time the Caribbean experienced a drought like this was in 2010. Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology said that this current one could grow worse if the hurricane season ending in November produces scant rainfall and the region enters the dry season with parched reservoirs. he also said, “We might have serious water shortages … for irrigation of crops, firefighting, domestic consumption or consumption by the hotel sector.”
The Caribbean isn’t the only area in the Western Hemisphere dealing with extreme water shortages. Brazil has been struggling with its own severe drought that has drained reservoirs serving the metropolis of Sao Paulo.
The Tourism sector is also being affected. Most large hotels in Puerto Rico have big water tanks and some recycle wastewater to irrigate green areas. Other hotels have cut back on sprinkler time by up to 50 percent, said Carlos Martinez of Puerto Rico’s Association of Hotels. “Everybody here is worried,” he said. “They are selling water tanks like hot cakes … and begging God for rain.”
Guests at Puerto Rico’s El Canario by the Lagoon hotel get a note with their room keys asking them to keep their showers short amid the water shortage. “We need your cooperation to avoid waste,” says the message distributed at the front desk of the hotel in the popular Condado district.
At the Casa del Vega guesthouse in St. Lucia, tourists sometimes find the water in their rooms turned off for the day, preventing them from taking a shower. “Even though we have a drought guests are not sympathetic to that,” hotel manager Merlyn Compton said.
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