Local Warming

Climate change in Venezuela means less water to drink, irrigate crops and generate electricity. Are we ready? No. Are we getting ready? No.

Instalaciones del embalse La Mariposa fotografiado en temporada de sequia. Caracas,9 de octubre de 2009. La Mariposa reservoir during drought. Caracas, 09-10-09. (Rodolfo Gutierrez / Orinoquiaphoto)

It is one of those days where it is just hot and humid. Your clothes stick to your body by a thin, uniform layer of sweat. It is 3:07 pm, and the air is stagnant. It isn’t sunny. In fact, dark, threatening clouds cover the sky. A downpour starts. Dogs and cats pour down. You head to your bathroom to take shower, just to cool yourself from this crazy hot Saturday afternoon. You reach for the knob, but there is no water. No water in your pipes at least. You become furious. You think, in your anger, to just go outside and shampoo in the rain, in the middle of the street, make this some kind of spectacle. Of course, you don’t.

Water is like that. When you first start to notice problems, it means that your are up to your neck in them, and you are years away from any viable solution. You have to plan. Plan for growing population, of course, but especially for system changes. You know, like climate change.

One thing the new National Assembly has done right is to summon the head of Hidroven (Venezuela’s water management state institution). Proper water management is crucial in any country, but particularly important in Venezuela. It’s not just about the kind you drink or shower with, it’s about the water that powers 60% of our electricity generation.

In Venezuela it will rain less often, but when it does rain, it will pour. The outlook calls for both more droughts and more floods. Our antiquated infrastructure is not designed to deal with such variability.

In theory, there’s consensus. No one here argues that global warming isn’t a thing. The government agrees, environmentalist agree and private sector doesn’t care enough to voice an opinion either way. There’s little need to weigh in on a regulation that’s never enforced.

Where things go south is when it comes to action. Venezuela is vulnerable in the face of climate change. Environmentalists know it, academics know it, the IPCC knows it, the government knows it. In fact have, for over a decade, government agencies have been warning about the dire effects of global warming and its impact over our land of grace..

Climate change boils down to this very simple idea. The earth is getting warmer, by doing so the water cycle accelerates. You know, from primary school, water evaporates, makes clouds, rains, make rivers that end in the ocean. But also higher temps means that the atmosphere can soak in more moisture. The result is both simple and dramatic. In Venezuela it will rain less often, but when it does rain, it will pour. The outlook calls for both more droughts and more floods. Our antiquated infrastructure is not designed to deal with such variability.

The INAMEH has shown impressive professionalism in publishing and researching what is happening and what’s likely to come next. Its 2004 report remains the most thorough assessment on what a warmer planet will mean for Venezuela.

A brief summary of what their models see and predict:

  • Average temps will increase by 3.2C
  • Average rainfall will decrease in the Northern-Coastal region (where 80% of the population leaves and most of the reservoirs are)
  • Average rainfall in the Caroni Basin will decrease as much by 20% putting pressure on our ability to generate electricity using current dams.
  • Land suitable for farming will also be reduced and desertified.
  • El Niño and La Niña years will worsen these trends
  • Rising tides. 3184 hectares flooded. Many beaches will disappear. The port of Guanta will be for scuba divers to enjoy.

Our first real drinking water crisis came in the El Niño year of 1997-98. It wasn’t a particularly intense drought we had that year, but it was long. Caracas’s reservoirs saw levels plummet and rationing was implemented for three years to get them back to normal.

Since climate change increases variability the effects the infrastructure will certainly not be suitable for the near future.  

Let me just stress, this is all from a now twelve year old report. All the way back in 2004, the policy recommendations were clear:

  • A better, more concise legal framework is needed. Water rights are basically given ad hoc but these basin councils who are either not operating or barely functioning.
  • Price. Yes, an official report called for putting a price on water to create the proper incentives to save.
  • Fiscal incentives. Tax breaks for water saving investments and fines for water wasting.
  • Infrastructure. Investment is needed for groundwater recharge, reservoirs, irrigation canals.

In the 12 years since,  the climate has changed. Venezuela’s temperature is a couple degrees warmer (as predicted) and we are now seeing the consequences.

Siboney Tineo from Hidroven argues that he can’t do anything due to the lack of rain. Definitely not today. We needed to work on this many years ago.  

By the way, water is just the tip of the iceberg. The effects on crops, cattle, disease spread that a couple of degrees cause are huge.

“Adaptation is no longer an option but a need given that climate change and its related effects are already happening”.


Panel Intergubernamental de Cambios Climáticos (PICC 2001)