Best of our wild blogs: 7 Jul 16

Checking up on Pulau Sekudu
wild shores of singapore

Baby Knobblies at Pulau Sekudu
wonderful creation

My favourites on East Coast's reclaimed shores
wonderful creation

BBC News features Bishan10 – Singapore’s most famous smooth-coated otter family
Otterman speaks

ICCS Workshops 2016: 13-15 Jul 2016: 7.00pm – 9.30pm
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Read more!

Singapore's celebrity urban otter family

Rebecca Bailey BBC News 5 Jul 16;

They're known as the Bishan 10 - and they're possibly Marina Bay's most famous residents.

They've starred in a David Attenborough documentary, and their affairs frequently make the local news. Facebook groups are dedicated to them, and academics study them.

They're a family of ten smooth-coated otters, and like many celebrities, they exude an aura of mystery, occasionally making an appearance to the delight of their many local fans. Like true stars though, when they do show their faces, they're extremely comfortable in front of the camera.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these urban otters don't seem to mind the crowds of humans that inevitably gather to watch them frolic around in the water, or chomp their way through an unfortunate fish's head.

(On which subject, Singaporean otters seem to have expensive tastes - local media reported back in February that otters were suspected of having eaten more than $80,000 worth of ornamental koi carp on Sentosa, a resort island just off Singapore.)

It's difficult to imagine that in the 1970s smooth-coated otters were thought to have vanished from Singapore.

Now their resurging numbers are seen as a sign that the island's waterways are becoming cleaner, and last week "Ottie the Otter" became the official mascot of an island-wide conservation movement backed by the government.

"The otter is a particularly pertinent reminder of the need to continue preserving our environment so that we do not lose these beautiful creatures again," said a spokesman at the project launch.

Fittingly, the 13th International Otter Congress is taking place in Singapore this week, with the theme Otters and People.

Diary of an otter-spotter

The otters usually appear at about 17:30 in the evening. They don't always appear in the same place though, as I've found on many a frustrating occasion. I often meet others on the hunt for them, and we share stories about where we saw them last.

When you do find them, you get a proper show. They always seem to follow a similar pattern of behaviour. First they'll catch some fish, and proceed to happily tear them to pieces and devour them, either on the shore or in the water.

After dinner, they start to play, chasing each other around in the water - they remind me of a mixture between a dog, a cat and a seal. I've been reading up, and I know that most of this family is quite young - people think the smallest five were only born in December. Sometimes one of them gets separated from the group and mewing piteously, scrambles to catch up.

After about half an hour of this, and just as twilight begins to settle in, they'll scramble up the bank (cue lots of screaming from walkers taken by surprise), find a bit of bare earth, and start to roll around until they're coated in fine sand. A bit more frolicking, and then suddenly, just like that, it's time to go - they vanish down into the water, or under a bridge, in the space of a minute or two.

Interest in Singapore's otters is growing, according to OtterWatch, an informal Facebook-based community with links to the National University of Singapore, and recently the otter-watching community's vigilance proved vital in a rescue.

In May, a six-week-old pup named Toby nearly drowned when he fell off a ledge - he was rescued by a 60-year-old retiree who dived in to save him.

OtterWatch members noticed the adult otters had not gone back for him and raised the alarm. The pup was rescued again, and the next day was reunited with his family.

Generally though, the National Parks Board of Singapore advises that when encountering otters, it's best to stay at a distance, keep quiet and avoid flash photography.

They also advise people not to feed them, but as these photographs show, they have no problem catching their own fish.

Read more!

Volunteer group seeks funds for haze prevention project in Malaysia

SIAU MING EN Today Online 6 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — A local volunteer group is taking its goal of tackling haze a step further, by embarking on a canal-blocking project that will lower the chances of dry peat soil catching fire easily — a project to be financed by crowdfunding.

People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), which was formed in Feb 2014, will begin on the project with Malaysian organisations at the end of the month, located in the Raja Musa Forest Reserve in Malaysia. The project is expected to cost RM4,480 (S$1,500).

Speaking to TODAY, PM.Haze president Tan Yi Han said that one way to help address the haze problem is to directly support haze prevention activities in neighbouring countries.

Activities such as agriculture and logging can lead to the drying of peatland, causing dry peat to burn easily. Once such a fire starts, they are difficult to put out, as water has to soak through the soil to extinguish the fire below.

Peat fires have been responsible for most of the noxious haze that has engulfed the region in recent years.

By blocking the canals, water levels can be raised to sustain the water composition in the dry peat soil, and prevent it from burning easily.

A few PM.Haze members have made field visits to Malaysia and Indonesia, and were able to experience the scale of the issue and see the dedication of the locals who tried to overcome the problem, said Mr Tan.

“With this canal-blocking project, we hope to bring this experience to our volunteers, while demonstrating how people in Singapore can work with our neighbours to solve this regional disaster,” he added.

Mr Tan said that while many non-profit organisations, companies and even government agencies have started to block up the canals, funds are still needed to help with these efforts.

Indonesia’s Peat Restoration Agency has estimated that US$3.6 billion (S$4.9 billion) is needed to re-wet all burnt peatland in the country.

With the canal-blocking project, believed to be the first such attempt by a community group, Mr Tan said he hoped PM.Haze would be able to set an example.

The Raja Musa Forest Reserve has a long history of fires, and the last one happened two months ago.

Working with an intermediary volunteer group Sahabat Hutan Gambut Selangor Utara and the Global Environment Centre, some 18 volunteers from PM.Haze will head down to the area on July 30. A new canal-block will be constructed to replace the existing one that is badly damaged.

The haze episode in Singapore last year — considered the worst in years — saw the emergence of various grassroots groups and non-governmental organisations in full force, urging consumers and businesses to help play their part in fighting the haze.

For instance, World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and PM.Haze started a movement — We Breathe What We Buy — to advocate the use of sustainably-produced palm oil, as a way to alleviate the haze problem.

Asked if the canal-blocking project was part of efforts to ensure that public interest in haze-related issues do not fizzle out, Mr Tan said it is understandable that “other priorities will take over”. “But we need enough people to care and be willing to take action, so hopefully our efforts can at least inspire these people.”

He added: “The work to prevent the next haze has to be done before the haze starts, and so it is important that we have committed people to do this work.”

Members of the public can contribute via this site:

Read more!

Dolphin carcass washes up on East Coast beach

The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Jul 16;

A dolphin carcass that washed ashore along East Coast Park on Wednesday (July 6) was still there on Thursday morning.

SINGAPORE - Dolphin sightings in the Singapore Strait are quite rare, and it was even more unusual to see a dolphin carcass washed up on the beach at East Coast Park on Wednesday.

By Thursday morning, a three-member team from the National Parks Board (NParks) had erected a cordon around the 2m-long carcass located near Big Splash, The Straits Times reported.

The dolphin was later taken away on a lorry after an assessment by staff from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and NParks.

In 2015, a dead sperm whale washed up on Jurong Island. $1.3 million was later raised for scientific and education efforts related to the sperm whale. Its skeleton was preserved at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which is part of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

A dead dolphin was also sighted at East Coast Park in 2014.

Between 2009 and 2011, at least 169 dolphins were sighted in Singapore, according to the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute, which has been conducting sporadic studies on the mammal over the past 20 years.

These marine animals are usually spotted near the Southern Islands, which is also home to Singapore's first marine park.

In 2015, a pod of six Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were spotted by bird watchers in the Singapore Strait while they were doing their pelagic bird survey.

In the same year, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) launched a two-year study on wild dolphins in Singapore.

Acres will also explore the possibility of conducting wild dolphin-watching tours in Singapore.

According to Acres, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are the two most commonly seen dolphin species in Singapore.

Dead dolphin at East Coast to be preserved?
Ng Huiwen, My Paper AsiaOne 8 Jul 16;

A dead dolphin that had washed up on East Coast Park on 19 July 2014. The carcass has since been retrieved and will be handed over to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

The fate of the dolphin carcass that washed ashore at East Coast Park on Wednesday remains unclear as of yesterday, as a local museum looks into whether it is suitable for preservation.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum said it hopes to "salvage the specimen for science" though its researchers will have to examine the carcass further before making a decision.

"It is likely that the dolphin's skeleton can be processed but we don't know for sure yet," said the museum's curator of mammals and birds, Marcus Chua.

He has identified the carcass as an indo-pacific humpbacked dolphin, also known as the pink dolphin. It is the most commonly sighted dolphin species in Singapore waters.

Sales manager Nigel Lim, 36, was cycling with his wife and two children, aged two and four, at about 11am on Wednesday when he discovered the dead dolphin on the beach next to Big Splash.

"I happened to park my bicycle by the side and walked to see the beach and boats. It looked like a big floating buoy but upon closer look, it was a carcass," said Mr Lim, who posted a picture of it on Facebook, before a friend alerted the authorities.

When The Straits Times visited the area yesterday morning, flies were seen swarming around the punctured abdomen of the carcass. It appeared to be badly decomposed.

Workers were later seen removing the carcass from the beach to a lorry just before noon, about 25 hours after it was first discovered.

Earlier at about 9.45am, a three-member team from the National Parks Board had cordoned off the carcass.

They left soon after.

Later, the carcass was removed by workers from Ramky Cleantech Services.

Donning face masks and gloves, they were seen pouring disinfectant over the carcass and surrounding area.

They wrapped it in trash bags and canvas sheets, before lifting it up with a large canvas bag to a lorry.

Ramky Cleantech Services site manager Jenny Khng, who oversaw the operation, said the carcass was taken to its Loyang office - to await further instructions from the authorities.

The Straits Times understands that the museum has since taken over the 2m-long carcass but Mr Chua declined to reveal its current location.

Read more!

Malaysia's drought spikes Singapore durian prices

FABIAN KOH My Paper AsiaOne 7 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: A drought in Malaysia has led to a spike in durian prices down south, with some sellers here charging over S$10 (RM30) a kilogram more than they did a year ago.

June and July usually form the peak season for the king of fruits, but the dry weather has decimated crops, and peak season is now expected to be delayed until the end of this month.

"We have plantations in Johor and Pahang, where there has been a decrease in harvest by more than half," said Alvin Teo, 30, owner of Fruits Top 1 Department Store.

He is selling 1kg of Musang King for S$27 (RM80), up from S$16 (RM48) last year. Despite the price increase, customers still buy and he sells out his stock every day.

Teo hopes that supply will return to peak level and that prices will return to normal, but added: "We have to see the bumper harvest this year first."

Alun Zhou, owner of 101 Fruits, said there was also a dry spell in March and April.

"It takes 90 to 120 days for one cycle of harvest. With no water, even if there is sunshine, the land will be dry and not fertile," he said

According to Zhou, who has been in the business for 40 years, local durian sellers also face competition as suppliers also supply to other markets in the region.

He added that regular customers now buy smaller amounts, just to try the taste of the fruit.

Prices at Combat Durian in Balestier Road are the highest they have been for five years.

Owner Linda Ang, who is in her early 50s, said: "Usually the bumper crop is in July. But Malaysia had the drought, so the harvesting is delayed."

She currently sells Musang King at S$28 (RM84) per kilogram. It was S$18 (RM54) to S$20 (RM60) per kilogram this time last year.

"Some customers are filled with disappointment, while some of them don't mind. They crave for it, they pay for it."

While there are alternative sources such as Thailand, Ang only brings in durians from Malaysia, as the Thai ones were affected by the drought too.

"Furthermore, the quality is not what Singapore customers want."

Administrator Linda Yeo said her family loves durians and she is willing to fork out the extra dollars if the taste is good.

'We will buy regardless of the price. We are really more concerned about the quality of the fruit." – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Read more!

Global fish consumption per capita hits record high -- UN

Mark Kinver BBC News 7 Jul 16;

Global per capita fish consumption has hit a record high, passing the 20kg per year mark for the first time, United Nations data has shown.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report said it was the result of improved aquaculture and reduced waste.

It added that people, for the first time on record, were now consuming more farmed fish than wild-caught fish.
However, the report's authors warn that marine natural resources continue to be overharvested at unsustainable levels.

The data has been published in the FAO's biennial State of the World's Fisheries and Aquaculture (Sofia) report.
Manuel Barange, director of FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources, welcomed the fact that global per capita fish consumption has passed the 20kg per year threshold.

"I personally think this is a very good thing because it shows that over the past five decades, fisheries supply - which combines aquaculture, inland fisheries and marine fisheries - has outpaced human population growth very significantly," he said.

"This is very significant because fisheries have a very much smaller footprint than other main sources of animal protein," he told BBC News.

"Fish is six times more efficient at converting feed than cattle, and four times more efficient than pork. Therefore increasing the consumption of fish is good for food security.

Fish provide an essential source of income, as well as vital nutrition, in many parts of the developing world
The growth in aquaculture has been identified as a key driver in boosting the global per capita consumption levels of fish. In the 1960s, the figure was an average of 9.9kg; in the 1990s, it was in the region of 14.4kg.

Mr Barange said the global aquaculture sector provided 74 million tonnes of fish products. Half of this production came from "non-feed" sources, which were species that did not require additional feeding in order to grow, he explained.

"That is quite important because when aquaculture started to develop as an industry, there were concerns that it would require feeding from, essentially, marine fish turned into fish meal," Mr Barange told BBC News.

"That in itself, the concern was, would be enough to undermine marine fisheries. But, actually, half of the aquaculture production does not need feeding at all."

Growing appetite

He added that another factor for the boost in the per capita figure was a result of more fish products being used for human consumption, rather than being diverted to feed animals etc.

"In the 1960s, we used to eat about 67% of the fish we caught and cultured. Currently, it is about 87%," he said.
"Improving consumption, improving the value chain and reducing losses, combined with aquaculture growth, is what has allowed us to reach this milestone."

Mr Barange said that the FAO was working with its member countries to develop guidelines for sustainable aquaculture that they can implement in their national policies.

"In the initial boom of aquaculture production, there was little attention paid to the underlying environmental impacts. This has improved over time," he observed.

"Clearly, there are still cases where aquaculture is causing damage to habitats but there are a large number of aquaculture industries that are developing in ways that are seen as sustainable."

While there were positive signs from the global aquaculture sector, the FAO Sofia report showed that life beneath the waves was not improving overall.

"Based on FAO's analysis of assessed commercial fish stocks, the share of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90% in 1974 to 68.6% in 2013. Thus, 31.4% of fish stocks were estimated as fished at a biologically unsustainable level and therefore overfished," it reported.

Mr Barange said it was vital to continue to push for sustainability in the fisheries and aquaculture sector because it was an important source of employment and trade.

"There are about 57 million people that are engaged primarily in fishing; 80% of them are in Asia," he said.

"About 12% of the world's population rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods. The majority of these people are in the developing world."

He added that trade in fish had grown exponentially in recent decades: "In 1976, fish exports amounted to only US $8bn. In 2014, it had reach US $148bn.

"Of this total, US $80bn was directly improving the finances of developing countries. That amount is higher than the net trade revenues of meat, tobacco, rice and sugar combined.

"The role that fish and fisheries play in economies and labour markets, particularly in the developing world, is very often understated. But it is extremely important.

"It is in this context that we want to improve the sustainability of these resources because so many of the poorest people on Earth depend on those resources."

Global per capita fish consumption rises above 20 kilograms a year
FAO’s new State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report urges more work to rein in overfishing
FAO 7 Jul 16;

7 July 2016, ROME-Global per capita fish consumption has risen to above 20 kilograms a year for the first time, thanks to stronger aquaculture supply and firm demand, record hauls for some key species and reduced wastage, according to a new FAO report published today.

Yet despite notable progress in some areas, the state of the world's marine resources has not improved, the latest edition of the UN agency's The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) says that almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974.

Global total capture fishery production in 2014 was 93.4 million tonnes, including output from inland waters, up slightly over the previous two years. Alaska pollock was the top species, replacing anchoveta for the first time since 1998 and offering evidence that effective resource management practices have worked well. Record catches for four highly valuable groups - tunas, lobsters, shrimps and cephalopods - were reported in 2014.

There were around 4.6 million fishing vessels in the world in 2014, 90 percent of which are in Asia and Africa, and only 64,000 of which were 24 meters or longer, according to SOFIA.
Globally, fish provided 6.7 percent of all protein consumed by humans, as well as offering a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium, zinc and iron. Some 57 million people were engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture.

Fishery products accounted for one percent of all global merchandise trade in value terms, representing more than nine percent of total agricultural exports. Worldwide exports amounted to $148 billion in 2014, up from $8 billion in 1976. Developing countries were the source of $80 billion of fishery exports, providing higher net trade revenues than meat, tobacco, rice and sugar combined.

"Life below water, which the Sustainable Development Agenda commits us to conserve, is a major ally in our effort to meet a host of challenges, from food security to climate change," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. "This report shows that capture fisheries can be managed sustainably, while also pointing to the enormous and growing potential of aquaculture to boost human nutrition and support livelihoods with productive jobs."


That the global supply of fish for human consumption has outpaced population growth in the past five decades - preliminary estimates suggest per capita intakes higher than 20 kilograms, double the level of the 1960s - is due in large measure to growth in aquaculture.

The sector's global production rose to 73.8 million tonnes in 2014, a third of which comprised molluscs, crustaceans and other non-fish animals. Importantly in terms of both food security and environmental sustainability, about half of the world's aquaculture production of animals - often shellfish and carp - and plants - including seaweeds and microalgae - came from non-fed species.

While China remains far the leading nation for aquaculture, it is expanding even faster elsewhere, the report notes. In Nigeria, aquaculture output is up almost 20-fold over the past two decades, and all of sub-Saharan Africa is not far behind. Chile and Indonesia have also posted remarkable growth, as have Norway and Vietnam - now the world's No. 2 and No. 3 fish exporters.

Aquaculture's strengths and challenges are also influencing what fish end up on our plates. The report shows that, measured as a share of world trade in value terms, salmon and trout are now the largest single commodity, an honor that for decades belonged to shrimp.

The state of sustainability

Some 31.4 percent of the commercial wild fish stocks regularly monitored by FAO were overfished in 2013, a level that has been stable since 2007.

FAO's methodology is consistent with international agreements stating that fish stocks should be maintained at or rebuilt to a size that can support Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Thus, stocks are classified as being fished at biologically unsustainable levels - overfished - when they have an abundance lower than the level that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield.

Decreased fish landings have been observed in some regions due to the implementation of effective management regulations, like in the Northwest Atlantic, where the annual catch is now less than half the level of the early 1970s. Halibut, flounder and haddock stocks in that area are showing signs of recovery, although that is not yet the case for cod.

Management measures also appear to be working for the highly-priced Patagonian toothfish - a type of whitefish from Antarctica often marketed (in U.S. restaurants) as Chilean sea bass - as the catch of that fish in Antarctic waters has been stable since 2005. Catches of Antarctic krill, which feed directly on phytoplankton, jumped substantially to levels not reached since the early 1990s, while being maintained at sustainable levels.

The report described the situation in the Mediterranean and Black Sea - where 59% of assessed stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels - as "alarming". This is especially true for larger fish such as hake, mullet, sole and sea breams. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the possible expansion of invasive fish species associated to climate change is a concern.

FAO continues to work with all countries to improve the quality and reliability of annual landing figures. The doubling since 1996 of the number of species in the FAO data base - now 2,033 - indicates overall quality improvements in the data collected, according to the report.

Supply-chain and other improvements have also raised the share of world fish production utilized for direct human consumption to 87 percent or 146 million tonnes in 2016, according to the report. That's up from 85 percent or 136 million tonnes in 2014.

The growing fish-processing sector also offers opportunities to improve the sustainability of the fish supply chain, as a host of byproducts have multiple potential and actual uses, ranging from fishmeal for aquaculture, through collagen for the cosmetics industry to small fish bones humans can eat as snacks.

Read more!

UN seeks to boost response to El Niño's dire impact in Africa and Asia/Pacific, urges La Niña preparedness

Over 60 million people affected by El Niño, many more highly vulnerable to La Niña's likely knock-on effect
FAO 6 Jul 16;

6 July 2016, Rome - Combined efforts to prevent further human suffering, strengthen resilience and safeguard livelihoods in the wake of El Niño's devastating effects worldwide must be rapidly ramped-up by governments and the international community, United Nations (UN) leaders said today.

More than 60 million people worldwide, about 40 million in East and Southern Africa alone, are projected to be food insecure due to the impact of the El Niño climate event.

The heads of the three Rome-based UN agencies urged greater preparedness to deal with the possible occurrence later this year of a La Niña climate event, closely related to the El Niño cycle that has had a severe impact on agriculture and food security.

The Horn of Africa, Southern Africa, Central America's Dry Corridor, Caribbean islands, Southeast Asia and Pacific islands have been hit the hardest.

Scientists are predicting an increasing likelihood of the opposite climate phenomenon, La Niña, developing. This will increase the probability of above average rainfall and flooding in areas affected by El Niño-related drought, whilst at the same time making it more likely that drought will occur in areas that have been flooded due to El Niño.

The UN estimates that without the necessary action, the number of people affected by the combined impacts of the El Niño/La Niña could top 100 million.

To coordinate responses to these challenges and to mobilize the international community to support the affected governments, UN agencies and other partners met at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today. The meeting included the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office of Lesotho, Kimetso Henry Mathaba, Minister for Livestock, Forestry and Range of Somalia, Said Hussein Iid, and Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, Priscah Mupfumira, also attended. Keynote speakers included World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, and UN Special Envoy for El Niño and Climate, Ambassador Macharia Kamau.

Participants noted that almost $4 billion is required to meet the humanitarian demands of El Niño-affected countries and that almost 80 percent of this is for food security and agricultural needs.

The meeting called for action to recover agricultural livelihoods that have been severely damaged by the droughts associated with El Niño. Acting now will ensure that farmers have sufficient levels of agricultural inputs for upcoming planting seasons.

Furthermore, FAO, IFAD and WFP are redoubling efforts to mitigate the negative impacts and capitalize on positive opportunities of a likely La Niña phenomenon in the coming months. This means acting decisively to prepare for above-average rainfall in some areas and potential drought conditions in others.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warned that the impact of El Niño on agricultural livelihoods has been enormous and with La Niña on the doorsteps the situation could worsen.

"El Nino has caused primarily a food and agricultural crisis", Graziano da Silva said. He announced that FAO will therefore mobilize additional new funding to "enable it to focus on anticipatory early action in particular, for agriculture, food and nutrition, to mitigate the impacts of anticipated events and to strengthen emergency response capabilities through targeted preparedness investments."

Mobilizing resources for rapid action now can save lives and minimize damage while reducing costs in the future, said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

"The massive impact of this global El Niño event, exacerbated by persistent poverty and chronic hunger in many countries, threatens the food security of millions of people who are the least able to cope," she said.

"Farms have failed, opportunities for work have evaporated, and nutritious food has become increasingly inaccessible for many communities," Cousin added. "But new humanitarian crises are not inevitable if we invest in support for communities and provide the tools and skills required to endure climate-related shocks."

IFAD Associate Vice President, Lakshmi Menon, reminded the global community not to forget about small-scale farmers, who are the most vulnerable to these extreme weather events. "Small-scale farmers in rural areas are disproportionally impacted by these natural disasters because many of them depend on rainfed agriculture for their lives and livelihoods, and they do not have the capacity to bounce back from shocks. We need to invest in building their long-term resilience so when the next El Niño and La Niña cycles hit, they are better prepared and can continue to grow food for their families," she said.

UN Special Envoy for El Niño and Climate, Ambassador Macharia Kamau said: "It is clear that these types of extreme weather events are stressing already-vulnerable communities, threatening to undermine development gains of recent decades and impede achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals."

He noted that the humanitarian community in partnership with governments and regional authorities have developed a number of plans in order to respond to the current El Niño event, and that these plans are multisectoral and require longer-term, predictable funding in order to ensure they are fully implemented.

Responding to El Niño, preparing for La Niña

Drought has gripped large swathes of east and southern Africa and has also hit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam, while El Nino-associated storms have wiped out harvests in Fiji and some of its neighbouring island states.

Participants noted that in southern Africa a three-month "window of opportunity" exists before the 2016/17 planting season begins and that adequate interventions, including agricultural input distributions are urgently needed to avoid the dependence of millions of rural families on humanitarian assistance programmes well into 2018.

In Southeast Asia, drought and saltwater intrusion are threatening the livelihoods of farmers in Viet Nam and also seriously impacting household food security and cash availability. With the monsoon season fast approaching, most farmers need to purchase inputs for their upcoming agricultural and animal production activities. While in the Pacific region the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau have already declared a state of emergency and below-normal rainfall is forecast to continue across the northern and western Pacific areas threatening the livelihoods and well-being of 1.9 million people.

Working in partnership

FAO's work

In Southern Africa, FAO is supporting more than 50 000 households including in Zimbabwe with livestock survival feed and drought-tolerant sorghum and cowpea seeds, and in Malawi, by vaccinating small livestock and providing drought-resistant cereals and irrigation support. In Lesotho and Mozambique, FAO has been strengthening national response and providing coordination support.

Throughout the Horn of Africa, in partnership with governments NGOs and other UN agencies, FAO is coordinating drought-related interventions, providing agricultural inputs, helping to rehabilitate water structures and animal health and production, and plant and animal disease surveillance and control.

In the Asia Pacific region, FAO's El Niño response includes a detailed assessment of the situation in Viet Nam where it is also on standby to provide emergency seeds and tools. In Fiji, FAO is currently providing emergency assistance to 1 050 households as part of the Cyclone Winston response. FAO is working with partners in Papua New Guinea to support farming families in the worst affected provinces with drought-tolerant seeds and smart irrigation material (e.g. drip-irrigation systems). In Timor-Leste, additional maize and cover crop seeds are being distributed to farmers affected by El Niño.

IFAD's work

Building climate resilience to drought and other extreme weather events is a priority in IFAD-supported projects and this is helping vulnerable families cope with the impacts of El Niño. For example, in Ethiopia small-scale irrigation schemes have ensured farmers are less dependent on rainfed agriculture. This is coupled with training in more sustainable water usage, water harvesting techniques and rehabilitation of degraded soils. In the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam, IFAD-supported projects are helping farmers to access saline-tolerant rice varieties and to diversify their incomes into small-scale aquaculture, so they are not solely dependent on rice and can continue to earn incomes during the drought.

WFP's work

World Food Programme has rapidly scaled-up relief operations to assist communities grappling with El Niño's impacts, providing emergency food where needed or cash to buy food where markets are functioning. In Ethiopia, more than 7.6 million people have received food assistance from WFP and more than 200 000 people have also received cash transfers.

In Swaziland, WFP has launched emergency food distributions and in Lesotho, has begun cash-based transfers. In Malawi, WFP will scale up its new lean-season food assistance programme to reach more than 5 million people by November. In Papua New Guinea, over 260 000 people affected by El Niño-related food insecurity are receiving WFP food assistance.

Resilience-building is integrated into emergency responses when possible. In Zimbabwe, a grains production pilot supported by weather-based financing facility FoodSECuRE trains smallholder farmers in climate-smart agriculture and the use of drought-tolerant grains. The Rural Resilience risk management Initiative (R4) has provided El Niño-related payments to affected farming families in Ethiopia, Malawi and Senegal. WFP also works closely with African Risk Capacity (ARC), an insurance pool to lower the cost of the response to disasters before these become humanitarian crises."

Read more!