Record heat wave puts Argentina harvests in jeopardy
CN 18 Mar 2023, 01:16 GMT+10
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CN) - The scorching summer heat has smashed multiple records in Argentina and has projections for agriculture exports for 2023 in steep decline due to drought across the fertile grasslands of the Pampas.
The capital of Buenos Aires recorded its hottest summer on record, with an average temperature of 78.1 Fahrenheit, according to the country's National Meteorological Service.
Nationwide, this summer was the warmest since 1961, at 34 degrees above the average temperature. Of Argentina's five warmest summers, four have occurred in the last decade.
Weeks of extreme temperatures have seen many towns and cities deal with consecutive days over 100 degrees. Even as Argentina shifts from summer into fall, temperatures remain uncommonly high, with the capital registering 101 degrees Fahrenheit on Mar. 11.
The scorching conditions are putting greater strains on the country's power grid as it struggles to meet demand, leading to major rolling power cuts across Argentina. On Mar. 2, a massive power outage left almost half the country's population without electricity after grassland fires caused the preventative shutdown of power plants, which also limited train and subway services.
On Mar. 13, demand for electricity broke a new record of 29,105 megawatts at 3:29 p.m., according to the national electricity system, as people took shelter under the cool streams of air conditioning. Yet more than 150,000 homes remained without power in and around the capital.
The National Meteorological Service predicted strong thunderstorms to moderate temperatures and deliver some respite from the drought, which is already having an impact on food insecurity and agriculture exports.
These conditions across Argentina have been attributed to climate change, with hotter, drier conditions making droughts more likely and harvest more unpredictable. Another key factor is La Nina, a natural phenomenon that affects weather patterns, which increases the likelihood of lower precipitation in the region.
Researchers from the World Weather Attribution found that climate change made extreme temperatures around 60 times more likely during December 2022 - summer in the Southern Hemisphere. They also found that climate change has increased the frequency and duration of heat waves in the region.
The effects reach beyond environmental damage - it also leads to higher food prices.
Inflation figures for February 2023 saw the cost of food and beverages increase by almost 10%, driven primarily by rising meat prices. The ongoing drought is set to affect food prices for the rest of the year, contributing to the worsening state of food security and a diminishing effect on agriculture exports that are key for the country's struggling economy.
Private sector estimates that Argentina's total agriculture exports for 2023 will be almost half that of 2022, with the drought cited as having a significant impact.
Agriculture exports for this year are forecast to fall by $18.1 billion from last year, a drop of 44%. Wheat, soy, corn, and sunflower exports are all set to shrink this year - all key crops for the Argentine economy as its exports bring in much-needed dollars.
Argentina's main exports are agricultural products and so governments are highly dependent on good harvests for boosting revenue. And government revenue dictates the political possibilities for the current administration.
President Alberto Fernandez took office in December 2019, months before the beginning of the pandemic. He began with strong approval ratings in part due to his administration's response to Covid-19. But in a country of systemic political polarization, Fernandez's approval ratings started to slide. Lockdown scandals, cabinet resignations and shuffles, and overseeing an ailing economy hit by 102.5% inflation in the last 12 months have all diminished Fernandez's chances of reelection later this year.
Disapproval of Fernandez and his government peaked at just over 80% towards the end of 2022 and remains high into 2023.
Current opinion polling puts center-right opposition politician and Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Larreta in front, along with the libertarian and self-described "anarcho-capitalist" candidate Javier Milei, who has proposed to dollarize the Argentine economy.
President Fernandez is not even the preferred candidate within his own party, with the majority of Peronist supporters backing Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, also a former president.
The elections are scheduled for Oct. 22.
Courthouse News correspondent James Francis Whitehead is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.