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El Niño: Overview of Impact, Projected Humanitarian Needs and Response as of 9 March 2016


The 2015-2016 El Niño has passed its peak but it remains strong and will continue to influence the global climate. It is expected to weaken in the coming months and fade away during the second quarter of 2016. The World Meteorological Organization states that models indicate a return to an El Niño neutral state during the second quarter of 2016. Meanwhile, strong El Niño conditions are quite likely through March-April. It is too early to predict if there will then be a swing to La Niña (the opposite of El Niño). The 2015-16 El Niño has started to decline in strength, but this does not mean that its impacts will diminish.

The peak three-month average strength of this El Niño, in terms of sea surface temperature anomalies observed during the final quarter of 2015, make this event comparable to the very strong 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Niño events. However, the strength of an El Niño event does not necessarily closely correspond to its effects on regional climate. At the regional level, seasonal outlooks need to assess the relative impacts of both the El Niño/La Niña state and other locally relevant climate drivers. The ongoing El Niño will continue to influence temperature and precipitation patterns causing weather and climate extreme events in different parts of the world, affecting health, water supply and food security, for as long as two years.

El Niño States of Emergency

Many countries have responded to the impacts of El Niño conditions by declaring national, regional or local states of emergency. These have been variously translated as states of disaster, calamity and emergency, and each has a specific set of meanings based on their country context. Of the countries of greatest humanitarian concern , six have declared a national state of emergency (SoE), including three in February. In 2015, Honduras, Guatemala and Lesotho had declared an SoE, and on 2 February the Republic of the Marshall Islands declared an SoE, followed by Zimbabwe on 5 February and Swaziland on 18 February. Many countries also have declared an SoE in particular regions, including the USA, South Africa, Colombia, the Philippines and Bolivia. Others have announced that they are in the early stages of a declaration. For instance Mozambique is on ‘orange alert’, while Ecuador declared a state of exception in November 2015.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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