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Challenging arid conditions imperil the economy and ecosystems in South America

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Per the most recent findings from the Global Drought Observatory, extended and intense arid conditions have consistently impacted the central-southern regions of South America since 2019. The area is confronting one of the lengthiest and most significant droughts in modern decades. The adverse consequences are already visible in terms of agricultural output, as well as on the financial and environmental systems.

This expansive drought phenomenon arises from smaller, geographically dispersed, sub-incidents frequently influenced by a serious deficiency of rainfall. By the conclusion of March 2023, the absence of precipitation coupled with higher-than-usual temperatures commenced causing severe strain on vegetation across Uruguay, southern Patagonia, and northern Argentina. Consequently, crop yields have diminished. In Argentina, the projection for soybean production in 2023 anticipates a 44% decrease compared to the mean of the previous five years, with the soy harvest expected to be the least bountiful since 1988/89. The drought has already caused a 3-percentage point reduction in the projected Argentinian GDP for 2023.

 

Inter-sector consequences necessitate immediate action on adjustment

The prolonged drought event spanning multiple years and the series of hot and arid periods in South America has contributed to a decrease of 30-50% in glacier ice coverage in the Andes, as highlighted by other research. Smaller glaciers have entirely vanished, exacerbating the water scarcities resulting from the ongoing drought and impeding hydro-electric power generation in regions with numerous lowland communities that house hundreds of millions of individuals.

As South America prepares for the shift to El NiƱo conditions, seasonal predictions indicate higher temperatures and fluctuating levels of precipitation. Dryer-than-usual conditions are anticipated from May to June 2023 in northern Uruguay and Argentina. According to estimates, the weather in Brazil, the coast, and central Peru will be average to significantly wetter, respectively. For a more precise knowledge of the effects of the upcoming months, close observation is necessary.

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Nevertheless, the extended absence of rainfall, the intense heatwaves, and the above-average forecast are highly likely to result in further diminished river flows, leading to (additional) direct repercussions on agriculture, ecosystems, and energy generation. Management of water resources should be thoughtfully strategized to mitigate consequences, and prompt measures for adaptation need to be promptly initiated to foster resilience against current and future climatic trials.

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