The World Meteorological Organization (WM0) warns there is a 75-80 percent chance of a full-fledged El Nino from January to March of 2019.
It added such a phenomenon will increase in intensity and frequency as the planet warms, worsening their related extreme weather impacts.
“El Niño” meaning “little boy” in Spanish, is a natural weather event that causes warmer than usual waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and cooler than usual waters in the western tropical Pacific and typically occurs in December around Christmas.
The changes drive weather patterns that have global consequences like below-average temperatures and more rain for the southern U.S., but hot dry conditions for ustralia, Philippines, Indonesia, southeastern Africa and northern Brazil.
Typically, El Niño years occur after every seven to ten years, affecting more than 60 million people, causing droughts, wildfires and causing devastating coral bleaching.
Impact on Food Production
Farming is one of the main sectors of the economy that could be severely affected by the El Niño phenomenon. While drought is the main threat to food production, El Niño can also cause heavy rains, flooding or extremely hot or cold weather.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), this can lead to pest and disease outrbreaks and animal diseases like zoonosis and food-borne infectious ailments.
It also causes widespread forest fires.
In previous El Niño events, people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries have been heavily affected in certain areas.
This year’s El Nino is going to affect fourteen countries in Africa, the South Pacific, Asia and Central America due to their increased risk to extreme weather while another 19 countries are classed as facing moderate risk.
The above-average ocean temperatures mean that fish migrate further north in search of cooler waters, and their predators follow suit. These migrations affect not only the marine food chain, but also humans that depend on those fish populations for nutrition and income.
El Niño also causes a shift in precipitation, which means some areas may get more rain than usual while others get less, which affects agriculture.
UNFAO said it is observing the current El Nino event and designing and implementing early actions to reduce the effects on vulnerable populations in all high-risk countries and in some of the countries at moderate risk.
In Somalia, riverbanks are being reinforced and sandbagged and plastic is being distributed to protect seed stocks.
FAO is expanding operations in response to growing food insecurity as a result of poor harvests across much of southern Africa. In Malawi, the Organization is assisting governments in the preparation of food insecurity response plan.
In Zimbabwe, FAO is providing support to 40 000 smallholder households to engage in commercial livestock production, and responding to the foot and mouth disease outbreak where 5.4 million doses of vaccines are still required. FAO has also prepared a drought mitigation programme.
FAO is supporting the countries of the dry corridor in Central America to increase the resilience of households, communities and institutions to prevent and address disaster risks that affect agriculture and food and nutrition security in a timely and efficient manner.
El Nino can have profound effects on human societies and ecosystem. It influences extreme events such as drought, floods, and tropical cyclones in many regions of the world, and these conditions can impact agriculture and food security, water resources and health.
Nearly three decades ago, the development of forecasts of El Niño events captured the attention of natural and social scientists, policy makers and resource managers who were eager to see these predictions put to use.
The forecasts on El Niño in most of the tropics and much of the sub-tropics where the phenomenon is most felt benefitted the agricultural sector especially water resources management. It helped farmers about the precise amount of rain in one specific farm, and about the timing of rainfall during the rainy season, while water managers made use of forecasts to plan water conservation.
Impact on Ecosystems
El Nino can have devastating impact on everything from weather systems to ecosystems around the world.
But since El Nino isn’t always predictable, so are its effects. In some parts of world crops may fail due to drought or floods. California may have a drought, and Manila may be flooded.
In the past, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela have already seen bridges, homes and hospitals destroyed by flooding. Crops have been ruined, and the mining industry has cut exports. All this is destabilizing emerging economies.
The situation maybe equally drastic in Indonesia where droughts have hit the country particularly hard, affecting industries like mining, power, cocoa, and coffee.
But biodiversity also pays a price. El Nino can impact the natural world. Much of Australia’s wildlife is adapting to the variable weather caused by El Nino – which appears to trigger green turtle breeding and changes in duck populations.
Also, underwater ecoystems supported by coral reefs are among El Nino’s casualities Native species not only have to cope with the changing weather, but also out-compete with generalist invaders.
The islands’ marine birds – like the blue-footed booby, brown pelican and frigate bird – are struggling to feed their offspring, and are laying fewer eggs. Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants are also heavily affected by the lack of food.
In marine ecosystems, El Nino is causing sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean to rise, contributing to corals bleaching. Increasingly strong waves relating to El Nino, along with exploding populations of sea urchins, are also having a devastating impact on the complex coral habitats that sustain a multitude of species.
Meanwhile, the production of phytoplankton is decreasing, causing repercussions through the food chain so that even top predators like sea lions are going hungry due to sea temperature rise.
Algal beds suffer too, affecting the animals that feed on them, including marine iguanas, turtles and many species of fish. Migratory species like sharks are being forced to move further offshore and forage in deeper waters.
About the Author: Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.
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