Update on FAO's activities in relation to the 1997/98 - El Niño and La Niña
- Dry conditions in parts of South America
- Wetter than normal conditions in Indonesia and the Philippines
- Above normal rainfall during the south-west Monsoon season
- Increased hurricane activity in the Caribbean Region and Central America
- Dry spells in parts of Argentina and Chile
- Equator-ward movement and dispersal of some fish stocks in the eastern tropical and sub-tropical Pacific Ocean
- Wetter than usual conditions over Northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines
- Above normal rainfall in southern Africa, with the exception of Zimbabwe
- Possibly drier than normal conditions in the Horn of Africa
The Organization continues to maintain close collaboration with governments, donors, NGOs and other humanitarian agencies involved in alleviating the adverse effects of weather anomalies.
FAO'S ROLE IN MITIGATING THE IMPACT OF EL NIÑO/LA NIÑA
Most of the activities undertaken by FAO in relation to El Niño are also relevant in a La Niña year. They relate, primarily, to assessing the impact of weather anomalies for agriculture and food security and designing programmes to mitigate their impact. In a number of countries, the Organisation has increased awareness among Governments of weather hazards to allow more location specific impact scenarios to be developed. It has also strengthened ongoing development activities relevant to the current and future weather anomalies.
Examples of measures promoted by FAO include:
- Support to well construction and small-scale irrigation development programmes in Southern Africa, Central America and the Caribbean;
- 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;
- Support for the preparation of a disaster preparedness strategy for the member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa;
- Provision of information and direct assistance to member countries on appropriate forestry policy and planning, forest management and land use decision making, environmentally sound logging, fire control, etc.;
- Provision of information and technical advice to member countries on the short and medium term assessment and management of fisheries disruptions caused by environmental factors such as El Niño and La Niña;
- Support to flood prevention through integrated watershed development programmes in eroded, mountainous regions, and support for the design and management of strategic food security reserves.
Crop and Food Supply Monitoring
Since the onset of the 1997/98 El Niño, FAO through its Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), 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/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions were fielded in March 1998 to Indonesia, which has been seriously affected by drought; in April 1998 to Angola, Mozambique and Zambia; in June to DPR Korea and in early July to Tanzania, where crop losses were caused by weather anomalies. A follow-up mission has recently assessed the impact of economic turmoil on food security in Indonesia and the impact of La Niña-related anomalies for the secondary crops. A local crop loss assessment as a result of drought was conducted in Cuba in late July in collaboration with WFP and other international agencies. For Central America, FAO assisted the Regional Unit for Technical Assistance (RUTA) in the evaluation of crop losses caused by El Niño in the sub-region.
The Director-General of FAO approved jointly with the Executive Director of WFP Emergency Operations for the following countries affected by El Niño /La Niña-related weather anomalies.
Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama (December 1997): US$ 9.4 million for farmers and their families affected by El Niño
- Indonesia (April 1998): US$88 million for some 5 million most affected people by the worst El Niño related drought in 50 years.
- Great Lakes (June 1998): US$104 million for 1.4 million people affected by civil strife and the adverse impact of El Niño.
- Cuba (August 1998): US$20.5 million for 615 000 drought-affected people
- Zambia (August 1998): US$20.7 million for 692 000 flood and drought-affected people
- Kenya (July 1998): US$11.8 million for 615 000 flood-affected people
- China (September 1998): US$87.7 million for 5.78 million flood-affected people
- Bangladesh (September 1998): US$84.4 million for 19 million flood-affected people
Since the onset of El Niño-induced disasters, FAO's Special Relief Operations Service (TCOR) has fielded a number of missions to countries affected by serious weather anomalies in Central America, Eastern Africa, Asia and the Pacific Rim to assess requirements for essential agricultural inputs needed to restore production as well as immediate rehabilitation and preparedness interventions.
Since the first impact of El Niño, recorded since March 1997 which was followed by La Niña, floods were reported in 65 countries, drought/dry spell in 29 countries and major forest fires in two countries (Indonesia and Brazil). In all cases FAO liaised with its country officer to obtain necessary assessment of situation and needs. Emergency interventions following El Niño-induced disasters are currently being carried out in several countries in Latin America, Caribbean Islands, Africa and Asia. FAO is closely monitoring the situation and assessment missions are being undertaken.
Impact on Livestock
From mid-1997 to early 1998 El Niño-related drought (which was followed by La Niña) has had a considerable impact in Asia, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines, which may trigger above normal livestock slaughter, with depressing effects on prices. Reduced output of feed grains due to La Niña-related drought, coupled with severe foreign exchange constraints, might also result in a downsizing of the intensive poultry and pig industries.
Apart from direct livestock losses due to heavy, unseasonable and heavy rainfall and floods at the between October 1997 and February 1998 attributed to the El Niño in Eastern Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia), they also provided ideal conditions for breeding of insect vectors of animal and human diseases. The most serious consequences of this was an epidemic of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania, which has resulted in illnesses and deaths. Large parts of neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia also were at serious risk of the epidemic. Livestock disease and loss, inevitably disrupted the food security balance and the welfare and incomes of large numbers of people dependent on livestock and livestock products. In addition, direct trade was also affected as some important markets placed embargoes on livestock from the Horn of Africa owing to fears of RVF infection.
FAO through its Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) programme has collaborated with the veterinary services of member Countries in the region as well as with the OAU, OIE and WHO in epidemiological surveillance, diagnostic services and preventive measures. A risk analysis study undertaken by FAO has just concluded that the RVF epidemic ceased by March 1998 and that by August 1998 there was no longer evidence of clinical occurrence of RVF in eastern Africa. Consequently, the risk of Rift Valley fever in the region had returned to the extremely low levels that prevailed before the extraordinary rains of October 1997.
Impact on Forests and Natural Vegetation
One of the greatest El Niño-related threats to forests and natural vegetation is the increased risk of wildfires, exacerbated by drought conditions. Drought raises the flammability of vegetation and creates other conditions suitable for the spread of fires, leading to increased number of fires, area burned and increased fire intensity .
Forest fires in critical watershed areas may have significant effect on streamflow and thus affect agricultural production on lands downstream. Given the link between forests and food security, the increased risk of wildfires and resulting forest damage associated with El Niño has a potential impact upon national and household food security.
Forest fires have a direct effect on the emission of greenhouse gases by increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere thus contributing to global warming. Fires may also reduce biological diversity, destroy wood and other forest commodities and emit smoke harmful to human health, inhibiting air traffic and impinging on tourism.
Specific FAO activities in the sector include:
a) Monitoring the global situation with respect to forest fires and building up a database of information;
b) Preparation of a Meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires, scheduled for 28-30 October 1998 at FAO, Rome. Agenda of the Meeting will include: Five regional studies analyzing the main socio-political causes of forest fires and on the measures/actions required to prevent and reduce their impacts, prepared by identified Resource Persons, in collaboration with experts from the regions concerned. Regions to be covered include: the Americas/Caribbean; Asia/Pacific; Africa; the Mediterranean; boreal and temperate areas of Europe and Asia;
c) A study to identify better means to integrate national and global systems for fire prevention i.e. early warning about adverse weather patterns such as El Niño that may have direct implication on prevailing environmental conditions which exacerbate fires;
d) Collaboration with UNEP and other international agencies concerned with emergency, mid and long term response to forest fires;
e) Long-standing provision of technical information and training on forest fire prevention and control.
Impact on Fisheries
From the fisheries point of view, the Eastern Pacific Ocean and particularly the area off western South America, is the most severely affected by El Niño warming events, and this has also been the case with the 1997-98 El Niño. Rising coastal sea temperatures and weakening in the upwelling enrichment process caused a severe decline in biomass and total production of small shoaling pelagics, which are otherwise readily available in the area, particularly off Ecuador, Peru and Chile. This has caused and is still causing large loses to the fisheries sectors in the area, as well as a worldwide shortage of fishmeal and fish oil.
Of particular relevance are the impacts of El Niño on the Peruvian anchoveta, which has declined to very low levels off Peru and Chile. Recent reports suggest that the stocks might have declined to low levels comparable only to those reported shortly after the 1982-83 El Niño. That El Niño and the current one have been the strongest warm events in the tropical and sub-tropical Pacific Ocean in this century. The main direct causes for the decline in stocks are: 1) increased fishing; 2) natural mortality and 3) recruitment failure with at least two consecutive year classes missing or much lower than expected, poor somatic growth with an average weight loss of 15-30 percent. Some signs of recovery of the anchoveta stocks were expected to become noticeable towards the end of this year and the beginning of 1999 following the phasing out of the current El Niño. However, these signs of recovery might be delayed if anomalies associated with La Niña intensify over the next few months. In any case, given their current depleted situation, it is most likely that it would take some time before the anchoveta stocks rebuild to their pre-El Niño conditions. Under these circumstances, the growing need for closer marine environment and resources monitoring and for adequate fisheries management and long term fisheries planing can only be stressed.
In the same area important sardine stocks were already declining before the onset of the recent events and although slightly warmer than normal conditions are known to favour sardines in this area, prospects of a recovery are likely to have been offset or even deteriorated by the strength of the 1997-98 El Niño. A strengthening of La Niña would not contribute to the improvement of the situation of these stocks. Catches of horse mackerel have also been much lower and consisted of smaller individuals than in previous years, particularly affecting fishing off Chile. This has been mostly due to an offshore and polarward displacement of existing concentrations, but an actual decline in the total biomass of horse mackerel due to heavy fishing and the prevailing environmental conditions cannot be excluded. Catches of other small and mid size pelagics and coastal demersals also have been affected throughout the eastern Pacific.
Although the 1997/98 El Niño has resulted in a reduction in landings of abundant and common fish species and reduced shrimp culture activities due to heavy rain and flooding in some areas, catches of other more tropical pelagic species such as dolphin fish, tropical sharks and tunas increased or have fluctuated widely in the tropical and subtropical eastern Pacific as stocks were experiencing a polarward displacement during the onset of the El Niño. As expected, these effects are retreating more rapidly with the phasing out of the event. Also in some areas the total production of some wild shrimp stocks and shellfishes also increased due to the warmer temperatures.
Other negative effects of El Niño have also been reported for other regions of the world, and of particular relevance are the unprecedented coral reef bleaching in the Indian Ocean and the tropical eastern and western Pacific. This has obvious fisheries and environmental impacts for the areas concerned.
Overall, and even if the total figures are not available yet, it is expected that the 1997-98 El Niño would have caused a decline to 2-4 percent in the total world fish production in 1997. An even larger decline is foreseen for 1998, when the strongest and most deleterious effects of El Niño were experienced.
FAO continues to monitor the situation on a regional and global basis, and, as requested, continues to provide information and technical advice on these issues to member countries and their fisheries institutions. Within this context, FAO is supporting the CPPS (the "Comision Permanente del Pacifico Sur", a regional body covering the SE Pacific, the area most severely hit by El Niño) regarding an International Seminar on the 1997-98 El Niño, being organized by the CPPS and due to take place in Guayaquil, Ecuador from 9 to 12 November 1998.
REPORTS ISSUED BY FAO ON EL NIÑO/LA NIÑA
The impact of El Niño on Crop Production in Latin America: GIEWS Special Reports, 25 August and 27 November 1997
The Impact of El Niño and other Weather Anomalies on Crop Production in Asia: GIEWS Special Report, 25 September 1997
Special Features on the impact of El Niño on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Food Outlook November/December 1997.
The impact of El Niño and other Weather Anomalies on Crop Production in Southern Africa: GIEWS Special Report, 21 November 1997.
El Niño Southern Oscillation Primer (ENSO): by SDRN, FIRM and SADC February 1998.
Heavy rains attributed to El Niño cause extensive crop damage in parts of Eastern Africa: GIEWS Special Report, 5 February 1998.
The continuing impact of El Niño on crop production in Latin America: GIEWS Special Report, 9 February 1998.
Indonesia - Drought-Reduced Harvest Threatens Food Security: GIEWS Special Report, 19 February 1998.
Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Indonesia: FAO/WFP Special Report, 17 April 1998.
Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Angola: FAO/WFP Special Report, 20 May 1998.
Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Zambia: FAO/WFP Special Report, 4 June 1998.
Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Mozambique: FAO/WFP Special Report, 23 June 1998.
Indonesia - Concerns over Food Supply Difficulties Mount as the Effect of Drought and Economic Problems Deepens: GIEWS Special Alert No.284, 7 July 1998
Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Indonesia: FAO/WFP Special Report, 6 October 1998.
Hurricane "Georges" Causes Extensive Crop Damage in the Caribbean: GIEWS Special Alert No. 286, 13 October 1998.
Hurricane "Mitch" Causes Extensive Crop Damage in Central Amercian Countries: GIEWS Special Alert No. 287 : 6 November 1998.
AWARENESS BRIEFINGS ORGANISED/ PARTICIPATED IN BY FAO ON EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA
Briefing of Permanent Representatives to FAO: 17 October 1997
FAO press briefing: 5 November 1997
Briefing for FAO Conference Delegates on FAO's activities in relation to forest fires and identification of new directions: 11 November 1997
FAO participation in the Inter Agency Task Force on El Niño convened by IDNDR: 18 November 1997.
First SARCOF meeting held in Zimbabwe, 8-12 September 1997, FAO/WFP meetings with the EU and USAID on contingency planning for El Niño related drought in Southern Africa, 6 December 1997.
FAO also provided information on the current El Niño and La Niña phenomena to the international community through a number of radio and media interviews.
For more information, please contact: Abdur Rashid, Chief, Global Information and Early Warning Service FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG