Water and Climate Change in Guatemala According to the Experts
(Excerpts from the edition Climate Change, 2015)
By Dr. Edwin Castellanos Co-Director, Center for Environmental Studies and Biodiversity – Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. Lead Author of the UN IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change; and Paris Rivera, Climatologist – INSIVUMEH (National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology, and Hydrology).
Dr. Edwin Castellanos:
Climate change will be felt in Guatemala essentially as a problem of water management.
Farmers report that it’s now more difficult to predict the beginning and the end of the rainy season. The famous May rains are increasingly becoming rains of June. This, of course, has increased considerably the problem of food insecurity and famine, especially in the area of the country called the corredor seco (the departments of Quiché, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, El Progreso, Zacapa, Jalapa, Chiquimula, and Jutiapa). (Editorial note: the national rate of malnutrition in children under five years old is over 40%.) Climate change will bring higher temperatures, which will increase the probability of having drier regions with less agricultural productivity.
Just as we’ve had a shortage of rainfall in the last years, in the past decade climatic variations have also expressed themselves in an increase of extreme weather events, not only tropical storms and hurricanes, but also torrential rains that cause floods and landslides that leave considerable damage and death tolls. We therefore need to prepare ourselves to confront alternating periods of scarce rainfall, by increasing our storage and mobilization capacity, and periods of intense rainfall, when we’ll need better infrastructure to reduce the impacts of flooding and the probability of deadly landslides.
Poverty, among other factors, makes the country highly vulnerable to the buffeting of a more extreme climate.
Much of the lack of water already observed in Guatemala comes from poor management of this vital resource, especially in terms of the pollution of surface water from the sewage we discard without any kind of treatment. (Editorial note: Recent reports estimate that more than 90% of groundwater sources and more than 98% of rivers and streams contain bacterial pollution.) As such, climate change will put additional pressure on Guatemala to develop adequate legislation so that we can better manage and conserve our water resources.
The canícula is a reduction in rainfall during the rainy season, usually for between 10 and 20 days during which rainfall is significantly reduced or even absent. In the last few years these warm, dry periods have been longer. This new tendency is attributed to climate change. It is believed that global warming and climate change cause more intense meteorological events with greater frequency in Guatemala and the world.
In 2014, Guatemala was affected by a drought that caused a prolonged canícula that saw up to 45 days without rain, according to farmers. (Editoral note: According to government authorities, the country lost over 70% of the harvest of basic food staples, which are primarily grown by small farmers. This directly affected over a million people and raised food prices, especially in the corredor seco, where climate change had already caused a massive loss of another principal source of income, the coffee harvest, through temperatures that favored the fungus la roya. All this exacerbated “malnutrition in children under five and women of reproductive age, increasing the risk of social and family conflict and increasing the flow of internal and external migration” (“Reporte de Situación No. 1 Sequía”).)
In the future we must expect that, due to climate change, droughts and canículas in Guatemala will become more intense, severe, extended, and prolonged. Their frequency will increase along with the country’s vulnerability and their impacts on the population.
On top of this, volcanic eruptions, the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial activity in Guatemala not only pollute our environment but also accelerate the effects of environmental degradation in our country caused by climate change.