An emergency declaration has been made by the Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who on Thursday described the country as in a “situation of disaster and calamity”.
Environment Minister Susana Muhamad confirmed that more than 340 fires have been recorded since November, spurred by continuous drought, record heat and the El Nino weather phenomenon.
The declared state of emergency means that the government is empowered to put through policies that it would normally not be permitted to do, for the safety and protection of its citizens. In efforts to control the fires, the Colombian police are using planes authorised to spray chemicals on coca leaf crops to transport and drop water over the fires. In further efforts, the Colombian army has deployed more than 600 soldiers with aircraft and vehicles to mitigate the situation in the areas most at threat.
In conversation with a reporter at El Pais, Johana Herrera, World Wildlife Fund Colombia’s forest and Climate Change Officer said: “There is a very well-defined weather pattern in Colombia, from December to April, and from June to September, there are two dry seasons, with little rainfall. The rainy seasons occur from April to May, and from October to December. It is normal, then, that the first weeks of the year are sunny. But this year the lack of rainfall has been greater than usual.”
The Associated Press have reported that local officials raised the number of wildfires from 25 to 31, out of which only nine are under control. Despite fires blazing on mountains close to residential areas, officials have not yet ordered any mandatory evacuations.
At the same time, roughly half of the country’s municipalities are on maximum alert due to fire risk, according to the country’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies.
On Thursday morning, at least 138 flights at the capital city’s El Dorado airport was affected by smoke billowing over Bogota. “We estimate that the phenomenon is composed of 70% fog and 30% smoke,” said the Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia, in a statement on X.
The drought is expected to intensify in February and most of March, according to Petro while the Colombian weather agency IDEAM has observed a high risk of new fires.
According to a new survey from global risk management provider Healix, for the first time, businesses are more concerned about extreme weather affecting their operations in 2030 than cyberattacks.