CUENCA DIGEST: Drought forces government to restrict electric power use as Ecuador’s hydro plants suffer record low water levels

Nov 7, 2009

Ecuador’s worst drought in 45 years is forcing restrictions on electric power use as federal officials announce a series of blackouts aimed at reducing consumption by 5% to 10%. Most of the country’s energy is hydro-electric and water levels at the largest generating station on the Paute River, 40 miles northeast of Cuenca, are approaching historic lows.

Energy Minister Esteban Albornoz announced that power will be reduced by 5%, effective immediately. He said that the reduction will effect residential users first as his office hope to avoid impacts to businesses. “We are asking our citizens to help conserve energy. The more we conserve, the less restrictions we will need to impose,” Alboroz said.

On Thursday, most of the country began to experience power outages. Schedules for blackouts are announced in local newspapers and on television and radio stations.

Albornoz said that the drought is affecting all of northwest South America and that power and water shortages in Colombia and Venezuela are more serious than those in Ecuador. In Venezuela, where blackouts have lasted for as long as 24 hours, there have been violent protests in several cities.

In Cuenca, rainfall since July is 30% of the seasonal average. Albornoz said that water flow at the Paute dam is running at 20 to 30 cubic meters per second when the average is 70 and 80 cubic meters.

CIVIL AVIATION BOARD APPROVES CUENCA’S AIRPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL SERVICE

Ecuador’s Civil Aviation Board has okayed the city’s request to establish immigration services at Mariscal La Mar airport, allowing it to process international air passengers. The plan means that international flights on a single air carrier can originate and end in Cuenca, with connections in Quito and Guayaquil.

The approval is contingent on the installation of a new aviation radar system that the airport says will be operational by December.

The 2008 airport renovation project included additional space to process international passengers.

ECUADOR’S UNEMPLOYMENT RATE NEARS 10%; JOBLESSNESS HIGHEST ON THE COAST

A drop in exports is taking its toll on jobs in Ecuador as the nation’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.7% in October. The industries that have seen the largest losses are those dependent on exporting, including seafood, agricultural products and cut flowers. The decline in oil prices have also resulted in job losses.

The highest unemployment rates are in Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, Machala and Manta, Ecuador’s major ports and export centers. Guayaquil has the highest unemployment rate at 11.8% while Manta’s rate is 10.8%. The mountain area has fared better with rates of 5.6% in Quito and 4.9% in Cuenca.

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