World + 7 more

Asia-Pacific Region: El Niño Snapshot (as of January 2016)

Originally published


Current conditions and forecast

Oceanic and atmospheric indicators suggest the 2015/2016 El Niño has peaked with a return to neutral conditions expected during the second quarter of 2016. However, countries continue to feel the effects of El Niño which include below average precipitation during the rainy season, more intense cyclones in the North-Western Pacific and potentially more frequent cyclones in the South Pacific over the coming weeks, as well as drought in South and South-East Asia.

Historical records of previous El Niño events suggest that the likelihood of the current El Niño being followed by La Niña is the same as a return to neutral conditions, during the second half of 2016. Should it occur, La Niña could exacerbate the negative effects in countries that have experienced El Niño conditions.

Impact and response


2.7 million people affected by drought and severe frost

The Government estimates that more than 2.7 million people out of the country’s population of 7.3 million are affected by prolonged drought and severe frost. This includes 522,000 people in the most severely affected districts. Priority needs include food, water and agricultural recovery support. With many affected communities living in remote areas, access remains a key issue. Some previously affected areas in the Highlands and Momase regions have received intermittent rains. Other areas along the southern coastal provinces and islands continue to experience lower than average rainfall. The Government activated the National Disaster Centre (NDC) and has allocated over US$66.5 million for the response.


up to 50% of Timor-Leste could be food and water insecure by the second quarter of 2016

According to an early assessment, up to 220,000 people may be affected by February/March 2016, should El Niño effects emerge as predicted and the harvests fail. Oecusse, Atauro and Metinaro districts in the northern part of the country are likely to be most affected. Based on historical data as well as current climatic projections, the Humanitarian Country Team estimates that up to 50 per cent of the area of Timor-Leste could potentially become food and water insecure by the second quarter of 2016. More detailed analysis and assessments are needed. The Government is stockpiling 7,000 MT of rice and sensitizing farmers and rural population on the potential impact through key messages.

El Niño and La Niña

El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. While El Niño is characterized by warmer than average waters in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, La Niña is caused by below average sea surface temperature. Generally speaking the meteorological effects of La Niña are the opposite of El Niño. In areas where El Niño brings too little water and increased temperatures, often La Niña will bring too much precipitation and decreased temperatures.


85% of all provinces likely to experience drought by the end of April 2016

A strong El Niño prevailed in the Philippines in the fourth quarter of 2015 and is expected to continue throughout February 2016. The Government of the Philippines forecasts significantly below-normal rainfall in most parts of the country from January to April. While Typhoons Koppu (October) and Melor (December) and the northeast monsoon brought a respite from drought, 68 out of 81 provinces nationwide will likely experience drought by April. FAO estimated in December that severe damage to farms, fisheries and forests may directly affect more than 12 million Filipinos relying on agriculture as a primary source of livelihood.


50 districts in 16 provinces experiencing dzud conditions

The Government of Mongolia conducted winter assessments in all 21 provinces of Mongolia from 16 to 28 December 2015 and concluded that a total of 50 districts in 16 provinces are experiencing dzud conditions, which is a summer drought followed by a severe winter. Another 120 districts in 20 provinces are experiencing near-dzud conditions. There is no conclusive data according to the Institute of Hydrometeorological and Environmental Studies of Mongolia to indicate that dzud is directly related to El Niño, however FAO has included Mongolia in the list of high-priority countries for early action related to El Niño.


Six to eight weeks delay in seasonal rains

Overall, the country experienced drier than normal conditions and a delay in seasonal rains by six to eight weeks, impacting the 2015/16 main planting season and, potential harvesting of main agriculture products. FAO reported that only 30 per cent of the average number of crops have been planted on time. While it is still unclear which provinces and districts are most impacted, indications of increased stress on vulnerable groups in East Nusa Tenggara and Papua provinces are apparent and received attention from the Government in the form of additional rice stocks; drinking water supply; and agriculture support, including cash payments to affected farmers.


1/10 of the population of Fiji reliant on water deliveries

1/3 of the population of Vanuatu reliant on food deliveries

El Niño impacts of varying severity are being felt in the region. Current estimates suggest that 1.6 million people in 11 Pacific countries could be at risk from changed rainfall patterns caused by El Niño, particularly intensified drought conditions and heavy but short-lived rains caused by intensified cyclone activity. The latest modeling shows that Vanuatu, Tonga, Fiji, the southern Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and New Caledonia can expect below normal rain levels over the next three months.

Without sustained wet season rains over the months ahead, many countries may not have an opportunity to replenish their water supplies until the following wet season at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. Governments have not yet declared an emergency and are managing to respond to the needs of their people within existing resources.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit