Cuenca and Azuay Province prepare for El Niño; during 1997-1998 El Niño, the area experienced both floods and severe drought

Sep 14, 2015

A national emergency operations committee is meeting this week to assess the preparedness of Azuay and Cañar Provinces for the El Niño weather phenomenon expected to reach full force in November and December.

A landslide west of Cuenca in 1997.

A landslide west of Cuenca in 1997.

Work on large flood control projects is being completed on the western areas of both provinces, where elevations range from 500 to 2,000 feet. President Rafael Correa announced on Saturday that the projects will be complete before the heaviest rains move in. The projects, that have been under construction for two years, will protect down-stream areas, including Guayaquil, from excessive flooding.

Emergency operations personnel say that the Cuenca canton could face two very different problems. During the 1997-1998 El Niño, there was severe flooding in the low-elevation, sparsely populated western side of the canton, while the city of Cuenca suffered a serious drought.

The affects of El Niños are difficult to predict, according the national meteorological office, but in recent history the mountain area, including Cuenca, have received less rain than usual, while the coastal lowlands are subject to flooding. “The rains stayed on the western slope of the Cajas Mountains in 1997 and did not affect Cuenca,” a press announcement said. “Agriculture around Cuenca suffered losses due to drought while some areas on the western side of province had torrential rains and landslides.”

The elevation of the Cuenca canton ranges from almost 15,000 feet in the Cajas mountains to less than 1,000 on the border with Guayas Province to the west.

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