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ARGENTINA | 09-03-2023 15:22

Extreme heat and drought: Argentina suffers its most scorching summer ever

Argentina is enduring this year's hottest summer on record, with record temperatures and lack of rainfall damaging agriculture and keeping the country under a weather alert.

Argentina is enduring this year's hottest summer on record, with record temperatures and lack of rainfall damaging agriculture and keeping the country under a weather alert, according to official data.

Last November, still in spring, the first of nine heat waves was recorded, compared to the usual four or five in summer. They will continue into autumn with soaring above average temperatures, the National Meteorological Service (SMN) reported.

According to the SMN, which has been collecting data since 1961, this is the hottest summer since the beginning of recorded data, and last month was the second driest February on record, with 41.9 percent less rain than average.

"It's difficult for now to attribute everything to climate change," NMS specialist Cindy Fernández told AFP.

Studies indicate that "climate change makes it 60 times the occurrence of prolonged heat waves with large territorial extension more likely," such as the ones Argentina is going through.

On Thursday, the entry of cold southern air is set to bring relief to the south of the country, "but in the centre and north temperatures will remain very high. In Buenos Aires we will probably have another heat wave next week," he said.

Estela Lago, 49, a saleswoman at a kiosk in Buenos Aires, is fed up with this endless summer. "I can't stand it any more. We've had extreme heat since November, it's March and it doesn't end," she complained.

This week, a red alert covers a third of the country.

"It's not normal to have heat waves in March, this last one was very long, in the city of Buenos Aires it lasted for seven days," said Fernández, who pointed out that the usual duration is three days.

 

More drought

The combination of high temperatures and drought led to forest fires and has dramatically affected agricultural yields in Argentina, a major food exporter.

"Argentina is suffering a climatic scenario unprecedented in modern agriculture," warned the Rosario Stock Exchange in its latest report.

"There is no rain in sight to put a floor on the harvest, the situation is very serious and could get worse," it added.

Soybean production, the main export product, will fall to its lowest volume in 14 years, with losses also in wheat and corn. The organisation estimated losses of about US$10 billion this year.

"This drought was caused by the La Niña phenomenon and is expected to begin to weaken in autumn until it disappears, but the atmosphere is slow to respond," Fernández said.

 

Overwhelmed

The phenomenon coincided last week with the start of the school year.

"The children get sick, they can't concentrate, there are 39 students in a classroom with no air circulation," described Patricia Castro, the mother of a seven-year-old girl who attends a public school in the Boedo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.

The school lacks air conditioning, said Castro.

"The playground where they do physical education is on fire, there's no shade, it's inhumane," said this employee who sends her daughter to school anyway "because there is no one to look after her at home."

Daniel Botaro, father of eight-year-old twins, said he had decided not to send them "until the heat lets up."

Although the authorities have not suspended classes, parents' complaints are multiplying by the day.

"In the school with these temperatures and without air conditioning, with the danger that entails... there is little respect for the children," said Ricardo Merkin.

An operation has been set up in Buenos Aires to distribute bottled water in schools. The City Health Ministry is maintaining an alert to prevent heat stroke.

Meanwhile, the surge in energy demand due to the high temperatures has caused power cuts and protests from users.

"The heat affects people with few resources more, especially children," said Ernesto Texo, a 70-year-old lawyer, who observed that poverty in Argentina affects 37 percent of the population.

For Valeria Sparrow, a 50-year-old employee, "the heat is tiring, but worse is the inflation," which in 2022 was almost 100 percent per year.

by Sonia Avalos, AFP

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