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Guatemala - Climate

Guatemala is one of the ten countries most affected by climate change worldwide. Guatemala has been called the “land of eternal spring.” However, hurricanes and tropical storms threaten that moniker. During the rainy season, the country can feel the effects of severe rainfall. Flooding, mudslides, and landslides all pose a major risk to urban and rural areas. The poor road infrastructure can be easily overcome by mudslides. Landslides and flooding have destroyed entire communities. The rainy season in Guatemala normally runs from June to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean. Heavy rains cause frequent flooding, landslides and collapsed roads and bridges throughout the country.

Guatemala's subsistence farmers and indigenous people living in poor rural communities are most affected by rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall linked to climate change, a leading researcher said 05 May 2019. Poverty makes the Central American country highly vulnerable to the impact of global warming that damages harvests and causes food shortages, said Edwin Castellanos, lead author of a report by the Guatemalan System of Climate Change Sciences (SGCCC). Guatemala could see a rise of 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 and a drop of 10 to 30 percent in rainfall if countries such as China, India and the United States do not cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to the SGCCC. Rainfall in Guatemala is becoming more unpredictable, resulting in crop losses. The rainy season is starting later. When it does start to rain, the rains are very intense.

Typically hot and humid in the lowlands and cooler in the mountains, Guatemala's tropical climate is divided into three climatic zones depending on elevation:

  1. The tierra caliente (hot country) occurs from sea level to 750 meters (2,500 ft) elevation. This area has mean annual minimum and maximum daily temperatures of 22° and 31°C (72° and 89°F), respectively, with extreme highs and lows rarely exceeding 12°C and 41°C (54°F and 105°F).
  2. The tierra templada (temperate country) is at elevations of 750 meters to 1,700 meters (2,500 to 5,600 ft) above sea level. Guatemala City lies within this zone.
  3. The tierra fria (cold country) has elevations higher than 1,700 meters (5,600 ft). The monsoon season occurs on the Pacific coast from May through December and in the highlands from May through October. Annual rainfall varies from 1,100 to 5,000 mm (45 to 200 in). Countrywide, the dry season occurs from November through April, except for a strip of the upper piedmont on the Pacific slope between elevations of 1,000 and 1,600 meters (3,300 to 5,200 ft), where rainfall conditions are similar to those of the Caribbean coast.

Tropical storms and hurricanes strike along the Caribbean coast from July through November, producing strong winds, rain, and flooding. Guatemala experienced extensive environmental damage after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. In recent years, Guatemala has been hit by several tropical storms of great intensity: Hurricanes Mitch (1998), Stan (2005) and Agatha (2010). Hurricane Stan alone caused damage equating to 3% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Guatemala is vulnerable to frequent natural disasters. It’s not just the country’s geographical location that leaves it susceptible. Poor housing, high malnutrition and unemployment also compound the situation to make the country’s inhabitants more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with indigenous communities and farmers being among the most affected. In an effort to increase resilience, Guatemala developed a National Climate Change Action Plan (Plan de Acción Nacional de Cambio Climático, PANCC) that incorporates mitigation and adaptation priority actions. Some the activities that the country is looking to implement include: increase the production of grains, strengthen early warning systems for food and nutrition insecurity, and provide technical assistance to farmers on phytosanitary and zoosanitary measures.

With coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Honduras, the mountainous country of Guatemala covers an area of 108,889 square kilometers and has the largest population in Central America (estimated to be 14.36 million people). With political stability having returned to the country since 1996, its economy has grown. Agriculture accounts for 26 per cent of exports (including traditional products such as sugar, bananas and coffee, as well as new products such as winter vegetables, fruit and cut flowers). Other important economic sectors include tourism and the export of textiles and apparel. Despite these gains, Gross Domestic Product per capita remains about half of the average for Latin America and the Caribbean (at US$5,200 in 2010; CIA, 2010).

Like most countries in Latin America, Guatemala has submitted one national communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Land use change and forestry are by far the largest contributors to GHG emissions in the country. The emission reduction potential of the sector is large, but not sufficiently explored. Guatemala counts with 8 CDM projects, one of which is in the agricultural sector.

Over 95% of all surface water bodies in the country are highly polluted. This puts the water supply of rural communities in peril. Alongside the impacts of climate change, insufficient resources and a lack of expertise make it difficult to ensure the sustainable management of the water supply.

Climate change has affected smallholders dramatically in the years since 2010. The country is particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme events, thanks to its geographical position in an earthquake and hurricane zone. Rains have recently been accompanied by increasingly violent storms, followed by prolonged drought. Deforestation and diversion of rivers by plantation owners producing food or biofuel for export have exacerbated the problems.

Lake Atescatempa, once a vast blue-green body of water in southwestern Guatemala, is a conspicuous victim of the climate change that is projected to profoundly and irreversibly affect Central America. A prolonged drought descended on the region in 2016, shriveling two rivers that feed into Lake Atescatempa, and with it the flow of tourists to the area and the livelihood of residents.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2019 11:08:30 ZULU