El Niño: food shortages, floods, disease and droughts set to put millions at risk

Agencies warn of unchartered territory as strongest-ever El Niño threatens to batter vulnerable countries with extreme weather for months
John Vidal and Damian Carrington The Guardian 16 Nov 15;

The UN has warned of months of extreme weather in many of the world’s most vulnerable countries with intense storms, droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events recorded in 50 years, which is expected to continue until spring 2016.

El Niño is a natural climatic phenomenon that sees equatorial waters in the eastern Pacific ocean warm every few years. This disrupts regular weather patterns such as monsoons and trade winds, and increases the risk of food shortages, floods, disease and forest fires.

This year, a strong El Niño has been building since March and its effects are already being seen in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Malawi, Indonesia and across Central America, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The phenomenon is also being held responsible for uncontrolled fires in forests in Indonesia and in the Amazon rainforest.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned in a report on Monday that the current strong El Niño is expected to strengthen further and peak around the end of the 2015. “Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest in more than 15 years,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

Jarraud said the impact of the naturally occurring El Niño event was being exacerbated by global warming, which had already led to record temperatures this year. “This event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change,” he said. “So this El Niño event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced. El Niño is turning up the heat even further.”

In 1997, the phenomenon led to severe droughts in the Sahel and the Indian subcontinent, followed by devastating floods and storms, which killed thousands of people and caused billions of dollars of damage across Asia, Latin America and and Africa.

The WMO said countries are expected to be much better prepared for a strong El Niño now than they were in 1997, but governments and charities are warning of serious food shortages and floods.

“While difficult to predict, the El Niño this year looks set to be the strongest on record. This is a real threat to people’s lives, health and livelihoods across the world, which will see increased calls for humanitarian assistance as people struggle to grow crops, face water shortages and disease,” said a spokeswoman at Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) in London.

“Fragile states like Yemen and South Sudan are already struggling with war and the threat of famine. Without increased humanitarian support, El Niño will make a difficult situation even worse,” she said.

“In Ethiopia and the Sahel, the impact of changing weather patterns is already visible. Outbreaks of diseases such as dengue fever, cholera and malaria are possible, so it is essential that health systems are shored up to respond.”

Rice and grain harvests have already been hit hard by severe droughts, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), which expects 2.3 million people in Central America and many more in east and southern Africa to need food aid. Rice shortages are expected in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and south-east Asia.

“The weather phenomenon, among the strongest on record, is likely to cause more floods and droughts, fuel Pacific typhoons and cyclones and affect more areas if it continues strengthening as forecast over the coming months,” said the UN children’s agency, Unicef, in a statement last week.

Unicef said it expected 8.5 million people in Ethiopia to need food aid and several million more in Somalia and Kenya. In Zimbabwe, the number of people in need of food aid was expected to reach 1.5 million by the time of the January to March “lean season”, according to the agency.

El Niño could leave 4 million people in Pacific without food or drinking water
Read more
One of the worst-affected countries is likely to be Malawi, where the worst drought in almost 10 years is expected to cause a further increase in severe malnutrition next year.

In South Africa, livestock has been dying as a result of drought, and water restrictions have been imposed in Johannesburg, and other areas.

In Central America, one of the most severe droughts on record has led to 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador needing food aid, said the WFP. Peru and Ecuador expect more than 2 million people to be affected.

“Another dry spell in 2015, this time exacerbated by El Niño, has again caused significant losses during the first crop cycle, the Primera season,” the WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean,Miguel Barreto, said. “This has hit small producers and their families who were struggling to recover from the previous year’s drought, and the number of people in need may increase soon.”

Last week, the Indonesian government said that rice growing areas of Java had been hit badly by drought.

“The world is much better prepared for this year’s El Niño, but the socio-economic shocks will still be profound,” said a spokesman for the World Health Organisation.

Researchers expect the risk of major fires in the Amazon basin to increase. More than 11,000 forest fires have been observed in the Amazonas province of Brazil this year, a 47% increase over the same period last year, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The storms that usually keep the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America wet shift northward to California and the southern US during strong El Niño winters.

Britain has pledged to provide £45m of emergency support for 2.6 million people and food for up to 120,000 malnourished children in Ethiopia and elsewhere. But it appealed on Monday to other countries to support humanitarian efforts and disaster preparedness efforts.

“All DfID offices are very much alive to the risks El Niño poses. Country teams from Ethiopia to Kenya to Bangladesh are working hard to ensure help is there for those suffering as a result of El Niño.

“In some places, this might mean boosting resources for existing projects while in others the effects may need to be monitored for longer to ensure the best response,” DfID said.


'High impacts' from globally stronger El Nino
Matt McGrath BBC News 16 Nov 15;

The El Niño weather event is expected to gain in strength before the end of this year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

In its latest update, the WMO says the 2015 occurrence will be among the three strongest recorded since 1950.

Severe droughts and significant flooding in many parts of the world are being attributed to this El Niño.

The WMO warn these impacts are likely to increase and this event is now in "uncharted territory".

El Niño is a naturally occurring weather episode that sees the warm waters of the central Pacific expand eastwards towards North and South America.

The phenomenon, which happens every two to seven years, usually peaks late in the calendar year, although the effects can persist well into the following spring.
This year's El Niño seems to be following that pattern.

According to the WMO, the peak three month average water surface temperatures in tropical Pacific will exceed 2C above normal.

It is the strongest event since 1998 and is expected to be among the three most powerful ever recorded.

Variable impacts

El Niño tends to see higher global temperatures than normal but its regional impacts are highly variable.

This year has seen active hurricanes in the eastern Pacific. In South East Asia, El Niño has been associated with a drought which helped increase wildfires in Indonesia and caused a dense haze in parts of the country.

Pelagic red crabs move northwards in California during an El Niño

El Niño is also believed to have played a role in reducing the impact of this year's monsoon in India.

In East Africa, enhanced rainfall is expected between October and December. Southern Africa is experiencing prolonged dry weather amid worries over the survival of crops and cattle.

"Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest in more than 15 years," said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

The authorities in California are expecting that El Niño will bring extremely wet conditions to the state in the early part of 2016. Sandbags are being stockpiled, storm drains are being cleared and extra staff are being taken on to deal with possible flooding.

While stressing that El Niño is not the only factor driving global climate patterns, the WMO says that the implications of the weather system in a warmer world are uncertain.

"This event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change, the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic sea ice and of over a million square km of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere," said Mr Jarraud.

"So this naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced," he said.

"Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further," said Mr Jarraud.
Scientists are meeting in New York this week to try and increase our understanding of El Niño and to predict the anticipated global socioeconomic shocks.

No comments:

Post a Comment