Government Orders Urgent Action Due to Drought in Guanacaste

Written by Marisol

• Yellow alert was declared due to lack of rain in the North Pacific.

• Losses in the agricultural sector account for ¢ 10.5 billion.

• Health emergency due to water polluted with arsenic in Bagaces and Cañas.

During his tour through various communities, in his first official visit to Guanacaste since he was elected, and in view of the activities of the 190th anniversary of the Annexation of Nicoya to Costa Rica, President Luis Guillermo Solís heard many times the popular clamor of various sectors that requested actions in the absence of potable water for human consumption and for various productive activities.

President Solís signed a directive on July 25 in Nicoya ordering the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy (MIDEPLAN) to lead actions alongside other institutions to address the problems caused by the drought in the province of Guanacaste and the Central Pacific Region.

The guideline “For the Systematization of Prevention Efforts Necessary to Addressing the Situation of Shortage of Rain in the North Pacific and Central Pacific Regions of the Country” (if translated into English) will also include the Ministries of Environment and Energy, Health, and Agriculture, and the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers, the Joint Social Welfare Institute, the National Groundwater, Irrigation and Drainage Service (SENARA), the National Production Council, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity, the National Meteorological Institute, the Institute of Rural Development, and the National Emergency Commission.

“Climate change requires a concerted effort in the short, medium, and long term. The Government of the Republic understands the seriousness of the situation and will act accordingly in a coordinated manner and looking for prompt solutions to existing problems, but also planning to address future situations,” said President Luis Guillermo Solis, while in Nicoya.

On July 22, the National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response, briefly known as the National Emergency Commission (CNE, for its acronym in Spanish) declared yellow alert in the North Pacific (Guanacaste) and the Central Pacific Regions to indicate that, given the impact that the phenomenon of “El Niño” has generated in the country, especially the drought, CNE can now mobilize resources more specifically and efficiently to areas affected by this phenomenon, in accordance to the urgent needs reported by the institutions that are part of the National System of Risk Management.

Iván Brenes Reyes, president of CNE, said the yellow alert will also facilitate the acquisition and purchase of water reservoirs, animal food, and the distribution of drinking water and salt, among others.

According to National Meteorological Institute (IMN), El Niño has been developing and has already led to a significant rainfall deficit in Guanacaste, registering a 65 % less rainfall than average at the end of the month, while in the Central Pacific has recorded a cumulative rainfall deficit of about 30 %.

The yellow alert means, according to CNE, taking immediate action to mitigate the effects of the drought that is already making millions in losses to the agricultural sector, according to studies by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG).

“The livestock sector faces a scenario that threatens its productivity due to possible increases in mortality and morbidity of the animals, decrease on fodder, the potential increase in the costs of mobilization and feeding livestock,” says a study by MAG and released by CNE.

According to the authorities of this Ministry, losses estimated at over ₡ 7 billion in agriculture and ₡ 3.5 billion in the livestock sector have been recorded. The most sensitive activities, according to MAG, have been corn and milk.

Luis Felipe Arauz, Minister of Agriculture, said that, together with the private sector, they are seeking to improve the supplementary feeding due to the scarcity of pasture, water supply, and decreased stocking rate on the farm; while the agricultural sector is coordinating to promote productivity of smallholder irrigation systems for low-income families, building community wells, and performing filtration and texturing procedures on the ground.

Lack of Water Affects Families

Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA) reported that there has been a significant decline in the availability of potable water for human consumption in the North and Central Pacific.

In several areas of Guanacaste, Tamarindo News found that there has been water rationing for several hours a day to avoid shortages.

Specialists from the National Meteorological Institute reported that they expect the phenomenon of El Niño to worsen by the end of the year and the first quarter of 2015 and is expected to have decreased by mid-2015.

Near the end of July, IMN meteorologists have indicated that, according to records, it appears that this July is, historically, the driest month that the weather station has ever registered in Liberia. The volume of rain this year comes to barely two liters per square meter, when the average has been 155 liters.

As the authorities indicated, the evolution of the rainfall deficit in the area will be assessed and they do say that, if necessary, the measure could be raised to a red alert.

Government Declared Emergency Due to Arsenic in Water

In the act of July 25 in Nicoya, Solis signed another decree declaring a health emergency in the counties of San Carlos, Alajuela, as well as Cañas and Bagaces, Guanacaste, due to water pollution by arsenic, which these communities have suffered for months and where there have been reports of people with kidney ailments.

Tests were made months ago, and the presence of this substance was detected; therefore, orders were made to supply water from other sources to communities, carry out aquifer studies, and build new wells.

The Minister of Health, María Elena López, has indicated that there is a constant monitoring of water sources and that a process is followed to isolate arsenic from water; moreover, she said to be working on solutions that involve institutions like AyA and the Costa Rican Social Security Fund.

Luis Guillermo Solis said that “access to clean water is a basic necessity that this government will ensure to affected populations through rigorous interagency coordination, but especially by being attentive to keeping clear and direct channels of communication between the people and those of us who are responsible to responding with accurate measurements in such a complex issue.”

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