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GEO Year Book 2003  
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Floods, droughts and hurricanes

The vulnerability of people and ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean to extreme weather events was again in the spotlight in 2003. There were record-breaking floods and droughts, as well as another abnormally heavy hurricane season. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti and Venezuela all suffered extreme (and above average) floods and/or drought (IRICP 2003a, NOAA 2003, Pittaluga 2003).
Above-average rainfall in March and April brought floods to large areas of the Argentinian province of Santa Fe, resulting in more than 30 deaths, and leaving 150 people injured. There were outbreaks of infectious diseases, serious problems for agriculture and livestock, and disruption of industrial production in some urban areas. More than 28 000 dwellings were damaged, with economic losses estimated at almost US$1 000 million (Pittaluga 2003, ECLAC and UN 2003).

World’s highest ski slope in Bolivia soon to disappear.

Source: REUTERS/David Mercado

Heavy seasonal rains in October led to floods and landslides in Colombia, affecting some 72 000 people, mostly those displaced by conflict and living in marginal areas (Pittaluga 2003, WFP 2003).
The Dominican Republic suffered severe floods in November, which affected over 65 000 people. There were also sizeable livestock and crop losses (estimated at one month’s supply of rice for the country) (IRICP 2003b).
In October, the most serious drought in recent decades reached its peak in central and northern Argentina, adjacent areas in Paraguay and Bolivia and to a lesser degree in western Uruguay. In some Argentine zones, the rainfall was below the historic minimum recorded in 1929 (ECLAC and UN 2003). This caused significant agricultural losses (especially of wheat, with two million tonnes ruined) and livestock, the total costs of which have been estimated at more than US$300 million (Pittaluga 2003). In Paraguay’s Chaco region, the drought caused a shortage of food supplies (Pittaluga 2003, ECLAC and UN 2003).
There were more Atlantic hurricanes recorded between 1995–2003 than ever before for a similar period. There were 14 tropical storms, of which seven became hurricanes and three became major hurricanes (NOAA 2003). Mexico was hit by a series of these between August and October. Hurricanes Ignacio and Marty are estimated to have caused damage worth $1 000 million, and left some 50 000 people homeless (IRICP 2003). Hurricane Fabian (August to September) was the most destructive to hit Bermuda in over 75 years (NOAA 2003) and it also affected the Eastern Caribbean states to a lesser degree.
Any increased hurricane frequency and intensity increases economic, social and environmental vulnerability, especially in the Caribbean SIDS. Economic losses strain government finances, the loss of property affects vulnerable populations, and the environmental damage is having a negative impact on an already fragile tourist industry upon which many of the Caribbean states depend (see also SIDS section).


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