Monday, 12 October 2015

The el-Nino in the Pacific

El Niño could leave 4 million people in Pacific without food or drinking water
Papua New Guinea drought has already claimed two dozen lives and looming El Niño weather pattern could be as severe as in 1997-98, when 23,000 people died

12 October, 2015

Two dozen people have already died from hunger and drinking contaminated water in drought-stricken Papua New Guinea, but the looming El Niño crisis could leave more than four million people across the Pacific without enough food or clean water.

The El Niño weather pattern – when waters in the eastern tropical Pacific ocean become warmer, driving extreme weather conditions – may be as severe as in 1997-98, when an estimated 23,000 people died, forecasters believe.

In Papua New Guinea’s Chimbu province in the highlands region, a prolonged drought has been exacerbated by sudden and severe frosts which have killed off almost all crops. The provincial disaster centre has confirmed 24 people have died from starvation and drinking contaminated water.

Provincial disaster co-ordinator Michael Ire Appa told Radio NZ he feared the death toll could even be higher.

The drought has been here for almost three months now and in areas that were affected by the drought there’s a serious food shortage, including water, and some of the districts have not reported, so there may be more [deaths] than that,” he said.

Two highlands provinces have already declared a state of emergency.
Oxfam Australia’s climate change policy advisor Dr Simon Bradshaw said many parts of PNG would run out of food in two or three months, but in some areas there was as little as a month’s food left, and few ways to get more in.

In the highland areas people are almost exclusively reliant on subsistence farming, farming of sweet potatoes. We do know that water is becoming very scarce, that’s of course impacting food production, and PNG is almost entirely dependent on its own food – I think 83% of its food is produced in-country – so any hit on food production poses immediate challenges in terms of food security.”

Over the coming months, the El Niño pattern will bring more rain, flooding and higher sea levels to countries near the equator, raising the risk of inundation for low-lying atolls already feeling the impacts of climate change.
At the same time, the countries of the Pacific south-west – which have larger populations – will be significantly drier and hotter.

El Niño years typically have a longer, more destructive cyclone season.
El Niño has the potential to trigger a regional humanitarian emergency and we estimate as many as 4.1 million people are at risk from water shortages, food insecurity and disease across the Pacific,” Sune Gudnitz, head of the Pacific region office of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Countries including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands are already feeling El Niño’s impact with reduced rainfall affecting crops and drinking-water supplies. Drought conditions would further complicate the humanitarian situation in countries that are just emerging from the devastation caused by tropical cyclones Pam, Maysak and Raquel.”

Many countries across the region are entering the El Niño period in a vulnerable state. Drought has been officially declared in 34 provinces in Indonesia, while in Vanuatu – still recovering from the devastation of cyclone Pam, which struck in March – authorities are warning reduced rainfall will damage food security, health and livelihoods.

In some parts of Fiji, water is already being trucked into villages that have run out. And Tonga, which has suffered a drought for nearly a year, has been forced to ship water supplies to the country’s outer islands.

Countries where food insecurity affects large proportions of the population were of special concern, Bradshaw said. 

With an El Niño event, you usually get about one-fifth less rainfall across the country as well as significant changes to the timing of the rainy season, a lot more rain concentrated in January, and that, combined with deforestation, increases the risk of landslides, flash floods, damage to infrastructure and destruction of crops. 

Timor Leste is somewhere we’re watching particularly closely because of the existing challenges, and the effect the El Niño will have on top of that.”

Bradshaw said the impact of the El Niño would compound the difficulties faced by Pacific countries struggling to cope with the effects of climate change.

He said recent research suggested El Niño patterns – usually seen every three to seven years – could now occur twice as frequently, and that “normal” conditions might become more similar to those of El Niño.

We’ve had two unusually hot years, and now we’ve got a very strong El Niño event, so I think it would be fair to say, unfortunately, that we’re in uncharted waters. What we’ve seen is somewhat unprecedented and climate change is increasingly going to put us in that position.” 

The countries most affected by the combined effects of climate change and El Nino are – for reasons of geography, economy, governance and remoteness – often the least equipped to deal with their impacts.

We’ve seen an unprecedented run of extreme and erratic weather, which has had very real impacts,” Bradshaw said. “Of course, those impacts are felt first and hardest by the world’s poorest communities, but these countries are also the least responsible for climate change. They’ve contributed negligibly to global greenhouse emissions.

I think it drives home the fact that climate change affects us all; it affects poorer countries first and hardest, but we have a responsibility as a wealthy, developed nation to be both doing far more to reduce our own emissions, but also to be providing greater support with adaptation and resilience-building to poorer countries.”

Bradshaw said the effects of the El Niño, combined with climate change, should drive all countries towards a strong agreement at climate change talks in Paris in December

As El Niño gets stronger Australia gets hotter, drier and more ready to burn
Bureau of Meteorology says prospect of drier-than-normal October is about 70% in southern Australia which comes after third-driest September on record

8 October, 2015

El Niño conditions are set to intensify across much of Australia, with extremely dry conditions expected to heighten the risk of drought and bushfires, the Bureau of Meteorology has said.

The bureau has updated its outlook for the rest of the year after Australia experienced its third driest September on record, with large parts of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania getting very little rain.

The chance of a drier than normal October for southern Australia is about 70%, with the probability rising to 80% in Victoria where the state government is attempting to find ways to get water to parched areas in the west of the state.

El Niño is a periodic climatic event in which waters of the eastern Pacific warm, triggering a slew of weather changes around the world. In Australia it is associated with reduced rainfall and warmer temperatures.

The current El Niño, which will last throughout the summer, is considered one of the top four on record in terms of strength. It has been balanced by another trend, the Indian Ocean dipole, in which warmer waters off Indonesia help bring moisture, and therefore rain, to Australia.

But the bureau said this had changed in the past eight weeks, with waters in the eastern Indian Ocean now 1C cooler than normal. The warmer waters are now found off Africa, bringing rain to countries such as Somalia.

We’ve had these two systems competing against each other, but now the El Niño is being reinforced – the wetter influence is being overrun by the drying influence of El Niño,” said Andrew Watkins, climate predictions manager at the bureau.

This means that the odds of a dry October are very strong, at a time that is very important for agriculture and also bushfires. We have already seen fires inVictoria, which don’t normally happen until summer, so that’s not a good sign.”

Hundreds of bushfires have broken out in Victoria over the past week. Two homes, two sheds and two vehicles were confirmed destroyed on Wednesday from a 4,000-hectare blaze near the town of Lancefield. The fire started from a planned burn-off, prompting an independent inquiry.

Melbourne had its warmest early October day on Tuesday, with temperatures reaching 35C. Sydney and Adelaide have also experienced a string of days over 30C before cooler conditions moved in.

The bushfire and natural hazards cooperative research centre has forecast a greater than normal risk of bushfires across much of south-east Australia this year, with climate change making fire seasons longer.

While summer is usually the time associated with the highest bushfire risk in the southern states across Australia, bushfire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer,” said Richard Thornton, the centre’s chief executive.

We know from research on recent large fires that many people living in high-risk bushfire areas are still under-prepared and ill-informed on the dangers and the preparations needed.”

The bureau said waters in the eastern Indian Ocean should start to warm again in November, bringing a slightly better chance of rain in Australia in November and December.

Our model suggests there will be more even odds in terms of dry conditions in November,” said Watkins. “But given the strength of El Niño, it would be difficult to bet on a wet end to the year. There will be average rainfall at best.”

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