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Drought, rainfall and floods undermine economic development in Latin America

  • Drought, rainfall and floods undermine economic development in Latin America

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World Meteorological Organization
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is an intergovernmental organization with a membership of 192 Member States and Territories. The World Meteorological Organization is the U.N.'s authoritative voice on weather.

A damning combination of El Niño and long-term climate change wreaked havoc across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2023, as outlined in a recent report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The report reveals a litany of disasters, including droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and a devastating hurricane, all of which profoundly impacted health, food security, energy, and economic stability in the region.

The "State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2023" report confirmed that it was indeed the warmest year on record, with sea levels rising at an alarming rate, particularly in the Atlantic part of the region. This surge in sea levels poses a significant threat to coastal areas and small island developing states, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities.

WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo lamented, "Unfortunately, 2023 was a year of record climatic hazards in Latin America and the Caribbean." She pointed to the compounding effects of El Niño and escalating temperatures due to human-induced climate change as major contributors to the crisis.

The report highlighted several alarming events, including Hurricane Otis, which struck Acapulco, Mexico, as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, causing numerous fatalities and billions of dollars in damage. Additionally, floods ravaged various parts of the region,  while intense droughts, such as the one that hit Brazil's Amazon, disrupted vital shipping routes like the Panama Canal.

A damning combination of El Niño and long-term climate change wreaked havoc across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2023, as outlined in a recent report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

Moreover, the report emphasized the urgent need for increased investment in National Meteorological and Hydrological Services to enhance forecasts and early warnings, especially considering that nearly half of WMO Members in the region offer only basic weather services.

The report also underscored the growing risks to public health, ecosystems, and wildlife, citing instances like the mass deaths of river dolphins in Brazil's Tefé Lake due to record-high water temperatures. It also warned of the escalating threat of diseases such as dengue fever, exacerbated by changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures.

The economic toll of these climate-related disasters was staggering, with an estimated $21 billion in damages reported, primarily attributed to storms like Hurricane Otis. However, this figure likely underestimates the true extent of the damage, particularly concerning heat-related impacts.

Agriculture and food security were severely impacted, with millions of people experiencing acute food crises, especially in Central America and the Caribbean. El Niño-induced droughts and flooding further exacerbated these challenges, jeopardizing agricultural production and livelihoods.

The report concluded with a call for concerted action to address the mounting climate risks facing the region, emphasizing the critical role of climate services in informing decision-making and building resilience. While progress has been made, much more must be done to safeguard the health, well-being, and prosperity of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

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