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Colombia Declares National Disaster as Wildfires Spread Through Parched Forests

(Bloomberg) -- Colombia declared a national disaster as wildfires spread through drought-hit forests and filled the capital, Bogota, with smoke.

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Environmental authorities reported 31 separate blazes on Thursday, after months of hot, dry weather caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon. Some cities posted record high temperatures.

Firefighters and the armed forces have struggled since Monday to contain a series of fires that broke out in the Andean mountains that loom over Bogota.

The emergency declaration by President Gustavo Petro allows the government to transfer funds from the national budget for disaster relief. Petro said that the drought is expected to intensify in February and most of March. The country has requested international help, including from the European Union, the U.S., Chile, Peru, Canada, and the UN, he added.

Colombia’s weather agency IDEAM said there’s a high risk of new fires in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Andean regions. Despite the high temperatures, reservoir levels in the hydroelectric plants that supply most of Colombia’s electricity have held up better than expected, Petro said.

The central bank has been monitoring the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon on food prices and energy. Central bank co-director Bibiana Taboada said earlier this month that those effects haven’t been significant so far.

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