Niño phenomenon threatens drought in the south

20 December 2015

Much of the government’s attention in responding to the El Niño meteorological phenomenon has been focused on the danger of flooding, especially in the north of the country. However, Niño years can also produce drought, for which the long-term consequences for a peasant economy can be far more serious than floods.

Although weather predictions of the catastrophic effects of El Niño this year and next have receded somewhat, there is still a 40% chance of what is termed a Niño of ‘high intensity’. Lack of rain throughout southern Peru in the last two months has increased fears of serious drought.

In 1983, the Niño phenomenon led to months of extreme drought in the south, as well as flooding in the north. This had an enormous impact on peasant livelihoods throughout the south as crops failed and livestock died on a massive scale for lack of fodder. Animal deaths had the effect of decapitalising peasant agriculture for several years, since livestock represents the capital stock for peasant farmers. Agriculture throughout the south is highly dependent on rainfall in the appointed months of the year and peasant farmers make up a large part of Peru’s poor (even in the best of times).

A widespread drought would intensify existing conflicts over water distribution, whether between communities and mining companies or between districts and/or regions over the ways in which scarce water is shared.

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