Latin America, Caribbean’s year of climate extremes: WMO calls for improving weather & health services to save lives

Better predictions, timely warning and integration of climate data into health monitoring key, says United Nations agency
Eastern part of Sao Paulo city in Brazil under floodwaters, 2023. Photo for representation: iStock
Eastern part of Sao Paulo city in Brazil under floodwaters, 2023. Photo for representation: iStock

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were hit by some of the harshest climatic conditions in 2023, causing an insurmountable loss of lives and property. To prevent such severe impacts of climate change related extreme weather events, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) called for higher investment to strengthen weather services in the region.

Last year, these countries crossed several grim weather milestones. The average temperature was the highest in history, according to WMO. The sea level in the South Atlantic and the subtropical and tropical North Atlantic Oceans rose faster than the global mean, putting island populations at risk. Glaciers in the region also lost some of the biggest volumes in history.

A combination of El Nino, the warming phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation natural weather phenomenon, in the second half of the year and long-term climate change caused these anomalies, the United Nations weather agency noted.

Droughts in Latin America and the Caribbean (January-November 2023)

Source: WMO

Mexico warmed faster than any other part in the region in 2023. It saw days when the mercury soared beyond 45 degrees Celsius in many places and touched 51.4°C on August 29.

From August through December, central South America was hit by extreme heatwaves, noted WMO, adding:

Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina all recorded their highest September temperatures. In Uruguay, the 2023 summer was the driest among the last 42 years on record.

Wildfires ravaged the region, wiping off precious biodiversity and adding to the air pollution. This put more people at risk of heart and lung diseases, along with ailments caused by exposure to extreme heat.

Along with the unprecedented warming, came natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. They caused widespread destruction in these countries, WMO observed. The weather agency cited the following examples:

  • Category 5 Hurricane Otis in Mexico, for instance, resulted in dozens of fatalities and damages costing billions of dollars
  • Record temperatures in the Tefe Lake in the Brazilian Amazon killed over 150 dolphins
  • In the Panama canal, an important maritime trade passageway, the water level was so low that international shipping had to be halted

The tragedies continue into this year, highlighted WMO. El Nino-linked massive floods in southern Brazil affected more than 850,000 people and displaced 116,000 in the last few weeks, the organisation noted. “The situation is unlikely to improve soon.”

More resources need to be pumped into the national meteorological and hydrological services, so that the countries can make better weather forecasts and send out timely warnings to populations at risk, WMO said.

The health sector also requires a fiscal stimulus to ensure people affected by heat and extreme weather can have access to appropriate treatment, the weather agency underlined. It called for “integration of climate data in health surveillance to develop stronger public health response to emerging diseases”.

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