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Press Release 98/48 


Rome, 31 July - The climate phenomenon El Niño has severely affected several countries with considerable impact in Asia and Central/South America since April 1997, according to a report published today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to the report, floods have inflicted 41 countries, while 22 others were hit by drought and two countries by major forest fires.

El Niño continues to have far reaching effects on crop production, national food situation, livestock, fish production, forests and natural vegetation in several parts of the world, said Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

Apart from livestock losses due to heavy rainfall and floods attributed to El Niño in eastern Africa, ideal conditions have also developed to create an outbreak of animal and human diseases. For example, Rift Valley Fever (notably in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia) resulted in extensive deaths and illness, putting large parts of neighbouring countries at serious risk of the epidemic.

Regarding its impact on fisheries, El Niño caused severe damage to the area off western South America, which is considered one of the richest fishing regions of the globe, producing 12 to 20 percent of the world total fish landings.

Of particular relevance is the impact of El Niño on Peruvian anchovy stocks, which have declined to very low levels off Peru and Chile.

One of the greatest El Niño-related threats to forests and natural vegetation is the increased risk of wildfires, due to drought conditions. Given the link between forests and food security, the increased risk of wildfires and resulting forest damage has a potential impact upon national and household food security.

"Forest fires have a direct effect on the emission of greenhouse gas by increasing levels in the atmosphere of CO2 thus contributing to global warming. Fires may also reduce biological diversity, destroy wood and other forest commodities and emit smoke harmful to human health," said an FAO expert.

Since the onset of the current El Niño, FAO, through its Global Information and Early Warning System, has intensified the monitoring of weather developments and crop prospects in all parts of the world. The System has issued several special reports on the impact of El Niño on crop production in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

FAO continues to be actively involved in helping countries to prepare for and respond to the adverse impact of El Niño. In a number of countries the Organization has increased awareness among Governments. It has also strengthened ongoing development activities such as small-scale irrigation programmes in southern Africa and Central America, as well as development of drought and cyclone-resistant cropping patterns and farming and fishing practices for South Asia, the Sahel, eastern and southern Africa and the Caribbean.


For further information please contact:

John Riddle
Media Officer, FAO/Rome
Tel. +39-06 5705-3259


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