Lack of rain in the Andes has caused serious problems of water supply, with the government declaring on 28 November a state of emergency in 37 river basins from Piura in the north to Tacna in the south.

Drought conditions, once again, draw attention to the effects of climate change in Peru and its vulnerability to changes in patterns of rainfall. The problem seems to have attracted scant attention in the media in Lima where the meeting of business elites (CADE) has been the main centre of attention last week.

The impact of low rainfall is taking its toll in the agricultural sector, particularly in the south:

  •  In the Tambo valley (in Arequipa), farmers have been unable to sow rice owing to the lack of water. Some 6,000 hectares have not been planted because of insufficient water supplies. Farmers are particularly angry because of the refusal of officials in neighbouring Moquegua to provide them with water from the Pasto Grande reservoir.
  • In Puno, agricultural officials say that lack of rain has affected the sowing of potatoes, quinua, beans, barley and other crops.
  • In Tacna, supplies to households and farmers are being reduced because the reservoirs in the Andes, notably Condorpico and Casiri are virtually dry.

Lack of water can have devastating effects on agriculture, especially among peasant farmers. Lack of fodder for animals can force them to sell of their cattle and sheep at rock bottom prices or indeed force them to butcher animals themselves. The effects of this can be a chronic de-capitalisation from which it can take them several years to recover. It also sharpens conflicts among users (mining companies, domestic consumers and farmers on irrigated land) and, as the row between Moquegua and Arequipa suggests) between whole regions.

Although such problems are an effect of the El Niño weather phenomenon, their increased frequency is put down to the impact of climate change.

Drought conditions in southern Peru are also being experienced across the border in Bolivia, where reservoirs have dried up completely, forcing the authorities into radical actions to ration water among domestic users in La Paz.