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Belize on drought watch

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 6, 2015–If it has seemed hotter and drier to you than it normally is, that is because in reality, it has been. Although Amandala has been unable to get updated rainfall data from local authorities for the first two months of the rainy season, June and July, they have confirmed to us that there is a drought watch in effect, particularly for northwestern Belize, as below average rainfall is expected this season for almost all of the country—except the south. This will be particularly pronounced for the next 3 months: spanning August to October 2015.

The seasonal precipitation forecast, published by the National Meteorological Service for August to October 2015, uses data dating back to 1979.

A stronger than expected El Niño—which has suppressed hurricane activity this season with only three names storms emerging in the Atlantic—has been having major impact on our weather.

On Tuesday, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) issued a release, saying that Central America is bracing for a stronger than expected El Niño, although initial forecasts called for a moderate one.

The report said that the effects of El Niño, which began in early 2015, will continue to cause problems well into next year, and it may be necessary for countries to adopt prevention and mitigation measures to protect the agricultural sector.

Expert reports presented at a recent IICA forum indicate that Central America will continue to face either very dry conditions, especially along the Pacific coast, from the east of El Salvador down to Panama; or very high rainfall, in some areas of the southern Caribbean coast of Central America and part of Guatemala’s Pacific coast.

Chief Met Officer Dennis Gonguez told Amandala today that for Belize, the impact of El Niño was manifested with the dry tropical wave, coming from the east, which caused a brief thunderstorm over some parts of the country yesterday.

“That is the effect of El Niño,” he said, pointing out that the tropical waves spawned under such conditions do not have much moisture with them.

He said that as El Niño sets in even further, the Eastern Caribbean countries are looking to have a drought warning in place for September to October – which, he said, is a higher level of alert than the drought watch now in effect for northwestern Belize. This area, said Gonguez, includes Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo and part of the Belize District.

“If the forecast materializes, we could have some issues come October… The agriculture sector would be the first to be impacted significantly,” Gonguez said.

Gonguez expressed concern that El Niño conditions could have implications going into the dry season, as it could make the dry season potentially worse.

We asked whether the conditions that have been affecting Belize—in fact since last year—have anything to do with climate change. Gonguez said that it could be deemed climate change if the conditions persist, but for now they call it climate variability.

IICA warns that the strong El Niño could negatively impact subsistence farmers, including those who plant corn and beans – two of the main crops in the region; and livestock could be affected by shortages of water and fodder, while high temperatures could disrupt the flowering stage of fruit trees.

They are urging mitigation measures, such as the recalculation of planting dates for annual crops, as well as the use of pest monitoring systems to prevent health risks, and preparations for a longer, hotter dry season.

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