2015–2016 El Niño
With climatologists predicting that the current El Niño event could become one of the strongest on record, FAO is moving forward with specific plans for early interventions under its Early Warning - Early Action System. Fourteen countries – in Africa, the South Pacific, Asia and Central America – are being specifically targeted due their increased risk to extreme weather and a subsequent negative effect on vulnerable people. Another 19 countries are classed as facing moderate risk.
El Niño is a naturally occurring phenomenon characterized by the abnormal warming of sea surface temperature in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. On average, it occurs every two to seven years and can last up to 18 months. El Niño has extensive consequences for global weather and climate patterns; in some regions it can lead to reduced rainfall and drought, while other regions experience heavy rains and flooding.
The Early Warning - Early Action System is a new FAO initiative developed with the understanding that by acting before a crisis escalates into an emergency, disaster losses and emergency response costs can be drastically reduced. Early action also strengthens the coping capacities of at-risk populations – a key priority within FAO’s Strategic Objective 5 to “increase the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises”.
The effects of El Niño are already being felt in some countries. For instance, up to 80 percent of crops have been lost in the “dry corridor” of Central America, a drought-prone region shared by Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. In Papua New Guinea, 2.4 million people – one third of the country’s total population - are affected by drought and frost. As El Niño continues, these numbers are likely to rise.
While drought is the main threat to food production caused by this phenomenon, El Niño can also cause heavy rains, flooding or extremely hot or cold weather. This can lead to animal disease outbreaks, including zoonosis and food-borne diseases, as well as plant pests and forest fires. In previous El Niño events, people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries have been heavily affected in certain areas.
FAO is designing and implementing early actions to reduce the effects of the current El Niño event on vulnerable populations in all high-risk countries and in some of the countries at moderate risk. In Somalia, for example, riverbanks are being reinforced and sandbagged and plastic is being distributed to protect seed stocks.