By Patricia Vazquez
MEXICO CITY – Drought and the El Niño weather phenomenon are wreaking havoc this year on the Mexican countryside and bringing suffering to some 3.5 million small farmers, a situation so severe that a top official at the country’s National Water Commission said even hurricanes would be welcome.
That commission, known as Conagua, is closely following El Niño, which is blamed in part for many of the country’s 800 large reservoirs being at dangerously low levels, the death of more than 50,000 head of cattle and the potential loss of 7 million hectares (17 million acres) of crops.
In addition to bringing less rain in the summer, the warm Pacific waters associated with El Niño cause hurricanes to form far out at sea and stay away from Mexico’s coasts, Conagua’s deputy director, Felipe Arreguin, told Efe on Wednesday.
El Niño, the periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, causes natural disasters in several countries, including intense rainfall in some regions and severe drought in others.
From the beginning of the hurricane season to date, seven storms have formed in the Pacific and three in the Atlantic. But none has come near enough to Mexico’s coasts to dump a significant amount of rainfall and thus alleviate the drought.
“Despite the destructive force of these phenomena, Mexico can’t live without them. The country would be nothing but desert,” the Conagua official said.
Mexico’s National Meteorological Institute expects nine more storms in the Pacific and seven in the Atlantic before hurricane season ends.
The National Peasant Farmers Confederation says Mexico is suffering its worst drought in the past 70 years and that the lack of rainfall could result in the loss of 7 million hectares of cultivated land and affect 3.5 million peasants.
Also at risk are more than 20 million tons of basic grains, such as corn and beans.
Agriculture Secretary Alberto Cardenas warned this week of the potential for reduced yields of many crops and said the government will earmark some 900 million pesos ($69 million) to cover insurance payouts for 6.6 million hectares and 4.1 million animals belonging to 3.4 million small producers.
While noting that, through July, farmers have produced 112 million of the 201 million tons of food slated to be grown by year’s end, he acknowledged that many irrigated crops must still be planted in the latter part of the year and could be affected by the drought.
The government plans to combat the drought with different measures, including shifting production to less-water-intensive crops, implementing practices to conserve humidity and planting fodder for cattle.
The most-affected states, and the ones that will receive the largest amount of government assistance, are the central and central-eastern states of Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Hidalgo, according to the Agriculture Secretariat, which said nationwide accumulated precipitation came in at 81.8 percent of the historical average for the January-June period.
Conagua says the situation at the country’s reservoirs varies dramatically.
Those in the north – in states such as Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila – are at between 60 percent and 90 percent capacity, while others that supply drinking water to the Mexican capital are at just 40 percent, prompting Mexico City authorities to implement supply cuts and other measures to conserve water.
Nevertheless, the biggest problem facing that giant metropolis, whose metropolitan area is home to some 20 million people, is the depletion of its underground aquifers.
While 60 cubic meters (2,115 cubic feet) of water from the city’s aquifers are consumed every second, only 32 cubic meters per second flow in. “The result is clear. The city is sinking,” Arreguin said. EFE