September 5, 2019 / 9:52 PM / 12 days ago

Chile's president announces water crisis team amid 'intense' drought

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera on Thursday announced the creation of a working group of government agencies, academics and industry players to tackle the worst drought in 60 years which has spiked this year amid record lows of rainfall.

The government has declared water shortages in more than 50 communities across three regions of its normally lush central belt so far this year, and an associated agricultural emergency across more than 100.

It has pledged to spend $58 million in tapping more water sources and trucking water to people going without in rural areas.

“The water shortages and drought... has become more extensive and more intense, and that is reflected in many ways: a decrease in precipitation and rainfall in virtually all of Chile’s regions, a decline in river flows, less water in our reservoirs and less snow on our mountain ranges,” Pinera told reporters at the presidential palace in Santiago.

He said the government was already supplying water to 380,000 residents of the worst-hit areas, and that the number of water-scarce communities could increase further in the coming months.

“The supply of drinking water in our cities is guaranteed during this spring-summer season, but we will have to make important changes to ensure that this supply is maintained over time,” he added.

Chile’s meteorological office said this month that the capital Santiago has received just a quarter of the average rainfall levels of the past 30 years.

Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker said earlier this month that 2019 was one of the driest years Chile had faced in six decades.

The situation puts pressure on key sectors of the local economy such as mining and agriculture. Miners are investing in desalination plants. While on a recent trip to China, the agriculture minister visited a Chinese meteorological station that specializes in cloud seeding to increase precipitation.

This year, Chile will host the U.N. annual climate summit, COP25. Although the southern Andean nation contributes relatively little to global emissions, it is among the 10 nations most likely affected by climate change according to U.N. definitions.

“Chile has been living as if it were a country that had an abundance of water,” said Pinera. “Climate change and global warming have changed that situation perhaps forever. We have to get used to using resources such as water and energy more effectively.”

Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Fabian Cambero; Additional reporting David Sherwood; Editing by Alistair Bell

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