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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Ecuador Is Literally Powerless in the Face of Drought

Drought-stricken hydro dams have led to daily electricity cuts in Ecuador. As weather becomes less predictable due to climate change, experts say other countries need to take notice.
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Ecuador is in trouble: Drought has shrunk its reservoirs, and its hydroelectric dams have had to power down. The government has been forced to cut electricity to homes for hours at a stretch, and in mid-April, President Daniel Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency. Since then, homeowners have been taking cold showers and struggling without internet access, while restaurants have been serving up meals by candlelight to avoid closing and losing perishable food. For businesses, that’s the worst, says Etiel Solorzano, a Quito-based tour guide for Intrepid Travel. “Three hours of no power? You can go bankrupt for that.”

Some days, the power outages have lasted up to eight hours or more, says Juan Sebastián Proaño Aviles, a sustainability coordinator and mechanical engineering professor at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Things have improved a little—power cuts are now no longer a daily occurrence—but Proaño Aviles expects sporadic energy shortages to continue for years. “It’s going to be a problem,” he says. “We have to do something pretty fast.”

In regions that receive most of their precipitation in a short period each year—like Ecuador, Southeast Asia, and the American West—reservoirs have historically been effective at storing water. (In Ecuador and Southeast Asia, a rainy season contrasts a dry season, while the American West gets heavy snow during fall and winter.) Managing agencies can then gradually release the stored water throughout the year to generate power as needed. This dependability helped make hydropower the largest renewable electricity source in the world.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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