Poorer nations bear brunt of climate change

November 28th, 2008 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Santiago (Chile), Nov 28 (DPA) Extreme rainfall and spreading drought are signalling rapid climate change in Latin America, prompting concern that wrenching changes like migration will worsen social equality.A greater concentration of land ownership, changes in water supplies and an expansion of deserts are the likely consequences as temperatures rise, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.

“There have always been climate changes, but not with the current force,” Jan van Wambeke, a FAO land and water officer for Latin American and the Caribbean, said.

Unprecedented changes in temperatures and rainfall are already being felt, while steps to fight them “will not be visible before 2050,” he said.

When delegates from nearly 200 countries meet in Poland Monday to work on a new global climate-saving pact, finding ways to help poorer regions deal with global warming will once again be on the
agenda.

In Latin America, melting glaciers along the Andean spine in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina spell trouble for the continent’s water supply.

About 77 percent of the world’s fresh water is in glaciers.

Meanwhile, changing rain patterns are making farming cycles unpredictable in a region that produces agricultural goods worth $120 billion per year.

“Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay are suffering a drought they have not suffered for years,” van Wambeke said.

In Chile, the desert frontier is expected to shift some 500 km south by 2050, threatening the country’s lucrative wine industry, he said.

Last year, a glacial lake in Chile’s Patagonia region simply disappeared over two months.

As land becomes unusable for farming, people will face pressure to move.

“In Guatemala there are documented experiences of this type,” van Wambeke said.

At the same time, torrential rains caused flooding and hundreds of deaths across Central America in recent years.

Dozens have died in the Caribbean and Atlantic region, where the number of hurricanes has doubled from 100 years ago because sea surfaces have gotten warmer, a 2007 report by the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research concluded.

Cuba alone was hit by five hurricanes this season and faces rebuilding entire sectors of its agriculture.

Governments must take steps to fight the effects of global warming, even though budget constraints make it hard to finance such policies, van Wambeke said.

“The issue is slowly entering the agendas of governments in Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

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