Colombia issues warning over soaring forest fire risk

By Oliver Griffin

January 11, 2024 at 12:39 PM

By Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The risk of forest fires in Colombia has increased significantly over the last week, Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said on Wednesday, adding that the current situation could worsen deforestation.

Colombia, one of the world's most biodiverse countries, is seeing the effects of its typical dry season combine with a strong El Nino weather phenomenon, which typically produces hotter and dryer weather.

"This El Nino compared with the strongest recorded ... has the strongest structural impact on climate change, which we saw in 2023 with all these measurements showing temperature levels, the abnormality of having three oceans with temperatures above normal and simultaneously an El Nino classified as strong," Muhamad said.

So far in January, Colombia has recorded some 62 forest fires, of which 58 have been controlled while three remain active, Muhamad said. The number of municipalities placed on alert for fires has exploded almost four-fold to 747 since Friday, he added.

Abnormally dry conditions can cause naturally occurring fires spiral out of control, the minister warned, noting that the drought posed an extra risk for the country's Amazon.

"We're very carefully monitoring the Amazon, where obviously we (will) experience an important part of the deforestation figure - or reduction in deforestation - for the year 2024 in these first three months of the year," she said.

Last year, Muhamad reported that deforestation in Colombia in 2022 declined by 29.1% to just over 1,235 square kilometers (477 square miles) versus the previous 12 months.

The government will present final 2023 deforestation figures later this year.

While the current El Nino is particularly intense, it is not expected to last as long as in 2015 and 2016, Muhamad added.

"Although it may be very intense, the reduced length indicates that the impacts may be more limited," she said.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Richard Chang)


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