New UN report warns of extreme weather in Latin America and Caribbean
Sylvia Carrasquillo reacts as she sits in front of an open fire hydrant in The Bronx section of New York, Friday. Dangerously high temperatures threatened much of the north-east and deep South as millions of Americans sought comfort from air-conditioners, fire hydrants, fountains and cooling centres. The heatwave is expected to extend into the weekend. (Photo: AP)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (CMC) — Extreme weather and climate change are causing mega-droughts, extreme rainfall, deforestation, and glacier melts across the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, according to a UN report published on Friday.

In its State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) highlights the far-reaching repercussions for ecosystems, food and water security, human health, and poverty.

"The report shows that hydrometeorological hazards, including droughts, heatwaves, cold waves, tropical cyclones, and floods, have unfortunately led to the loss of hundreds of lives, severe damage to crop production and infrastructure, and human displacement," said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.

The report revealed that, since the 1980s, glaciers in the tropical Andes have lost 30 per cent or more of their area – with a negative mass balance trend during the 1990-2020 monitoring period. In Peru, some have lost more than 50 per cent of their area.

This October 17, 2018 file photo shows houses flooded at Graveyard Point on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, United States. Climate change has been driving stronger and wetter hurricanes, and increases flood risk. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

Glacier retreat and corresponding ice-mass loss increases the risk of water scarcity for people in the Andes and its ecosystems.

"For many Andean cities, melting glaciers represent the loss of a significant source of freshwater currently used for domestic use, irrigation, and hydroelectric power," said the WMO chief.

According to the report, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest doubled from the 2009 to 2018 average and reached its highest level since 2009.

"In South America, the continued degradation of the Amazon rainforest is still being highlighted as a major concern for the region but also for global climate, considering the role of the forest in the carbon cycle," said the top WMO official.

Meanwhile, record-breaking rainfall last year triggered floods and landslides that caused hundreds of fatalities, left tens of thousands of homes destroyed or damaged, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

Regional sea levels rose at a faster rate than elsewhere in the world, with the report noting that the rising sea contaminates freshwater aquifers, erodes shorelines, inundates low-lying areas, and increases the risks of storm surges, threatening coastal populations.

"Increasing sea-level rise and ocean warming are expected to continue to affect coastal livelihoods, tourism, health, food, energy, and water security, particularly in small islands and Central American countries," Taalas warned.

The report also warns of the impact of the drought situation in the LAC.

"Worsening climate change…have not only impacted the biodiversity of the region, but have also stalled decades of progress against poverty, food insecurity, and the reduction of inequality in the region," said Mario Cimoli of Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The report, which outlines how extreme weather will continue to adversely affect human health and natural ecosystems, can inform climate policy and decision-making.

"No matter how it is taken, action must be informed by science," he underscored.

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