Another warning

Casanare drought raises Colombia climate fears

Colombian cattleman Daniel Cuadra: “I don’t know what the future holds, but we need to prepare ourselves because next year could be worse.”

The rotting corpses of dead cows and wild capybaras line the road that leads from Paz de Ariporo to Hato Las Taparas in the Colombian province of Casanare.

At least 20,000 animals, including wild pigs, deer, small crocodiles and tortoises have died of thirst during a catastrophic dry season in this central region.

And many fear this year’s drought is only heralding a future of increasingly harsh summers and even more severe water shortages in Colombia’s plains.

Dry as bone

“Here we have two very distinct seasons: a dry season and a rainy season,” explains Angely Rodriguez who overseas agricultural and environmental affairs in Paz de Ariporo.

“In a couple of months, it will be raining so much, all this will be like a mirror, completely flooded.”

But that will be of little consolation to farmers whose livestock has been decimated.

Ms Rodriguez says dry spells – which usually last from December to April – are nothing new for the inhabitants of Casanare, but “never before during the dry season did we have such a lack of water”.

As we drive across the yellow plains, all we seem to come across are tanker lorries.

Some are carrying water to replenish ponds, marshes and other natural drinking sources as part of efforts by the authorities to alleviate the suffering of wildlife and cattle.

Water is being delivered to some of the worst hit areas to replenish ponds, but many of the lorries carry oil

But the large majority carry oil extracted from under the soil of these plains.

Ms Rodriguez thinks the recent boom in oil exploration and extraction in the area is to blame for the water scarcity in the summer months. “We’ve seen water sources that used to last all summer run completely dry,” she tells the BBC.

“We’re aware global climate change is part of the problem. But we also need to look into the consequences of seismic exploration and how much water the oil industry is extracting,” she says, as we drive past a flock of vultures feasting on another dead cow.

‘Too simplistic’

Like Ms Rodriguez, many worry about the consequences of seismic reflection – an exploration method that uses small controlled explosions to create an image similar to a sonogram to help locate new oil deposits.

Many in Colombia fear that this method affects water sources, and dismiss oil industry studies which suggest the contrary.

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