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Bogotá, Colombia: One of the world’s highest cities starts rationing water as reservoirs fall to critical levels

Bogota – Colombia

A new meme was widely shared this week on social media accounts in Colombia’s capital Bogotá, as the city grapples with a water crisis.

This is an image of C. Montgomery Burns, the supervillain from the animated series “The Simpsons,” showing up at the door with a bouquet of red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Smiling, he said: “I saw that your water rationing trick is different from mine.”

The meme reflects a dark sense of humor among some Bogotanos following city officials’ announcement Monday that residents would have to ration water as an El Niño-fueled drought pushes reservoirs to record levels.

Rationing came into effect Thursday morning. Bogota and dozens of surrounding towns have been divided into nine different zones, with running water cut off for 24 hours in each zone, on a rotation that will reset every 10 days. The measures will affect around 9 million people.

– Source: CNN
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Millions of people are affected by the water crisis in this country

There are contingency plans to ensure continued supplies to schools and hospitals, authorities said.

But, as the “Simpsons” meme suggests, some residents are wondering if they might need to start getting together with friends across town to get access to clean water.

The measures are part of emergency plans put in place by the Colombian government and the city’s mayor after reservoirs reached “historically low” levels.

The Chuza and San Rafael reservoirs, part of the Chingaza system that supplies 70% of the city’s drinking water, are in particularly critical positions, according to local authorities.

“Let’s not waste a drop of water in Bogotá right now,” Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán said at a press conference on Monday, adding: “this will help us lift or reduce these restrictions more quickly.”

Galán called for “a change in behavior that is sustainable over time and ensures that water is enough for everyone,” adding that some reservoirs have less than 20% capacity compared to historical averages for this time of year. .

The San Rafael reservoir on the outskirts of Bogotá, which is a source of drinking water for the city, is at very low levels due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, April 5, 2024.

It is not uncommon for Latin American cities to face water crises. Bogota joins Mexico City to the northwest, which may also be on the verge of running out of water, as the combination of climate change, El Niño, geography and rapid urban development puts immense pressure on its water resources .

But this is the first time in recent history that Bogota has been forced to implement water rationing measures.

Perched on a mountain plateau, Bogota is one of the highest capitals in the world, at over 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level. To the east are the peaks of the Andes, to the west is a lush valley through which winds the Magdalena, Colombia’s largest river and a vital water source.

Moisture from the rainforests along the Magdalena rises into the mountain valleys and clashes with colder temperatures at the summit, generating rain.

Like each Bogota As you know, rain is quite common in the city, which depends largely on it for its water needs.

“Most cities around the world rely on aquifers for their water supply. Bogota is different in the sense that almost all of our supply comes from surface waters like reservoirs, which are more sensitive to rains,” said Armando Sarmiento, professor of ecology at Javeriana University in Bogotá.

It’s this reliance on rain that makes Bogota particularly vulnerable to drought, Sarmiento told CNN.

Water level markers in the San Rafael Reservoir.  Mayor Carlos Galán announced that water rationing measures in Bogota would begin on April 11.

Since last year, the city has experienced long periods of drought due to the impact of El Niño, according to local authorities.

El Niño is a natural climate phenomenon originating in the Pacific Ocean along the equator that influences weather patterns around the world. In Colombia, this has led to higher temperatures and lower precipitation.

In a country as politically divided as Colombia, the urgency of fighting El Niño is a rare point of consensus. The government issued a decree on natural disasters in January to mobilize resources to combat its devastating effects, including wildfires and water stress.

Bogotá’s water rationing plans have been supported by the country’s president, who has historically had a difficult relationship with the city’s mayor.

Colombia’s Ombudsman, a civil authority charged with protecting civil and human rights, issued a statement Tuesday saying a long-term reliable water supply is a basic human right, and the Environment Ministry in February launched a campaign with the hashtag #ElNinoNoEsUnJuego (El Niño is not a game) to warn Colombians not to underestimate the crisis.

As global warming makes extreme weather events such as heatwaves and droughts more frequent and severe, experts warn that pressure on cities’ water systems will only increase.

Colombia’s Environment Minister Susana Muhamad urged municipal authorities to develop long-term plans to deal with dwindling water reserves.

“We have reached a point where we cannot expect the water to drop like before if we do not respect the natural cycle of supply to the reservoirs, if we do not respect the natural cycle of water” , she told reporters on Monday. She called for the creation of a task force to limit Bogotá’s urban expansion into natural areas.

Sarmiento, the environmentalist, told CNN that while it is difficult to predict how the climate will evolve in the coming years, the city and the country as a whole need to be better prepared for future crises on a much larger scale .

“In times like this, everyone focuses on individual uses, like limiting showering,” he said. But the problem is much bigger, he added, especially in Bogota, which is also one of Colombia’s most active industrial zones.

“We need to rethink our use of water as a society. »

CNN’s Heather Law and Ana Melgar contributed reporting.

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