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Colombia Mines & Energy Minister Tomas Gonzalez Resigns; Stricter Measures for Electric Consumption Imposed

First Posted: Mar 08, 2016 07:00 AM EST

Colombia's Mines and Energy Minister Tomás González Estrada has resigned from his position as the country is swamped with energy problems due to the drought.

President Juan Manuel Santos announced the news of González Estrada's resignation on Monday.

"The mines minister, Tomas González, has assumed responsibility for the delay in savings measures and has presented his resignation," Santos said in an interview in Bogotá, the Colombian capital.

Santos said that González Estrada's position will be filled by María Lorena Gutiérrez, who is the current minister for the presidency.

According to Santos, around 11 percent of energy has vanished over 15 days due to the fire that occurred at the Guatape hydroelectric plant in the province of Antioquia in February. The incident shut down generators and restricted the water supply that flows into other plants.

About 70 percent of Colombia's energy is generated at hydroelectric plants.

How the Government Plans to Remedy the Situation

Santos urged Colombians to limit their electricity usage so that rationing would not be needed. The government also plans to impose a system of carrot and stick, which will issue penalties for households and companies that use energy more than the average consumption.

"As president I would have preferred that we take these measures sooner," the Colombian president noted. "What is at stake is the credibility of the government, but most of all Colombians' confidence in the electrical system.

Effects of Drought

Colombia's energy ministry is taking actions to avoid a blackout in the final peak months of the drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which is the main culprit for the country's decreasing hydroelectric reservoirs. Colombia is "maximizing thermal dispatch, boosting electricity imports from Ecuador and implementing energy conservation measures," Argus Media reported.

The drought and water shortages have also affected the country's agricultural sector, teleSUR wrote. Dried up farming lands and loss of crops has caused food price hikes of up to 80 percent in some instances. The poor state of almost 15,000 hectares of crops has placed around 5,000 farmers and their families in a tough economic condition.

In addition, the drought is causing mass displacement in northern Colombia as people struggle to find access to ample supplies of food and drinking water, according to Colombia Reports. The Ombudsman's Office said in February that 300 people were registered as displaced in the province of Bolivar alone.

The office noted that it's likely that the real number of displaced people is higher because not all locals register themselves as displaced. The country's 51-year long armed conflict has already displaced 7 million people.

Earlier this year, Venezuela announced that it will temporarily stop its export of natural gas to Colombia because of the drought.

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