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Lack of Rain in Chile Forces Change in Plant Life

In Chile’s capital, Santiago, plants like grass are becoming rare after 13 years of extremely little rainfall.

The drought has forced the city of six million people to limit water use. It has also caused local officials and landscapers to replace plants that need a lot of water with desert plants.

"Santiago's landscaping is from years ago, designed for a Mediterranean climate. Now we are in a semi-desert climate," Valentina Vega of the Providencia neighborhood, told Reuters. "We can't waste all that water anymore."

Recently, Chile announced a plan to ration water in the capital. It is the first such measure in the city’s nearly 500-year history. It involves a four-level system that includes restrictions on water pressure and cutting off water to parts of the city for periods of time.

A general view of an area with native plants and trees better adapted to grow in a drier environment, while Chile is suffering its worst drought in recent history, at a local park in Santiago, Chile on April 18, 2022.

In Providencia, the local government plans to change planted areas along roads into areas with plants that need little water. A special watering system is also planned.

"This saves almost 90% of water compared to traditional landscaping," Vega added.

The city is also divided. Rich areas have more areas with trees and plants which are little seen in poorer areas. But everyone is making changes, using native plants and modernized watering systems to avoid waste.

Economics student Aracely Rodriguez, 26, lives in Pudahuel, an area in the northwest of Santiago.

"Where I live there are no parks or green areas nearby, there is not much to water," Rodriguez said, adding: "We try to take care of the water. We have a conscience.”

Reducing water

Rodrigo Fuster is an expert in water management from the University of Chile. He said people need to change the way they use water. He said Santiago now receives less rainfall and snow from the nearby Andes Mountains. This has reduced river water available to the city.

In Santiago’s main city park, waterways that carry water from the Maipo and Mopocho rivers to the park are 80 percent lower than normal. Park officials have updated the water systems and added trees that can live in the climate.

"The drought hits us all," said Eduardo Villalobos, who helps supervise the park. He added that people need to change what they do each day to save water.

In the park and others across Santiago, a combined five hectares of grass area has already been replaced, he said. This saves 300,000 liters of water during each watering period.

Local people have been divided about the changes. Some said the new landscaping in places just looked like rocks. Others said change would take time and could also be beautiful.

Dina Robles pointed to a sustainable garden in front of her house full of different plants, colorful flowers, and grasses. The smell of plants often used in cooking, mint and rosemary, was carried by the wind.

"A neighbor told me she regretted the change, that they had been promised flowers and there were only stones," Robles said with a laugh. She added that it took three months for the plants near her house to flower.

"Then it all exploded in shades of violet and blue. It's very beautiful," she said.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Words in This Story

drought – n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain

landscape – v. to make changes to improve the appearance of (an area of land)

ration – v. to control the amount of (something, such as gasoline or food) that people are allowed to have especially when there is not enough of it

sustainable – adj. involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources

conscience – n. the part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions as being either morally right or wrong

park – n. a piece of public land in or near a city that is kept free of houses and other buildings and can be used for pleasure and exercise

regret –v. to feel sorry or sad about something you did or did not do

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