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Preventing El Niño Southern Oscillation Episodes from Becoming Disasters: A ‘Blueprint for Action’



The 2015/16 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episode severely affected more than 60 million people around the world. The six-month period from January to June 2016 was the planet’s warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature of 1.3°C warmer than the later 19th century. The impact of drought, flooding and severe storms led 23 countries to appeal for international humanitarian assistance in East and Southern Africa, ‘Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The most vulnerable groups bore the brunt of the emergency, including women, children, the elderly, the disabled and people living with HIV/ AIDS.

In May 2016, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Mrs. Mary Robinson of Ireland and Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya as his Special Envoys on El Niño and Climate. The Special Envoys recognized the important progress of a number countries in preparing for and responding to the ENSO escalation. They also saw that ENSO’s severe weather threatened to overwhelm even the most proactive countries, tipping the scales toward economic loss and humanitarian need. They identified that a purely humanitarian response would not be sufficient to address the underlying vulnerability linked to the recurring and predictable ENSO phenomenon, and proposed an integrated approach which focused on prevention and bridged the humanitarian-development nexus.

Despite the progress made and an abundance of good practice examples, there is no question that a much greater sense of focus and urgency is required to ensure that future ENSO events do not result in the scale of emergency caused by the 2015/2016 El Niño. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. The governments of at-risk countries must be supported to effectively and comprehensively plan, prepare and rapidly respond to these events, including by making integrated investments in climate resilience. The objectives of the Blueprint for Action (‘the Blueprint’) are to provide a tool to support integrated, nationally-led and equity-driven plans to prepare for ENSO and other climate hazards, absorbing risks without jeopardizing development gains, and informing climate-smart development plans to reduce risk; and to encourage the global, regional, national and local partnerships necessary to support the effective and sustainable implementation of these plans. Action is envisioned across the 15-year timeframe of the Agenda 2030, measured by progress against the targets and indicators of all eight international commitments and agreements which were endorsed/reviewed in 2014-2016.

With the underlying premise that ENSO and other weather events can be predicted, prepared for and mitigated, thus avoiding humanitarian crises, the Blueprint identifies eleven ‘building blocks’ which can be incorporated as appropriate into nationally led multihazard plans and other efforts to focus greater efforts on prevention and resilience:

A. Turning early warning into early action (Anticipate)
1. Collective risk analysis, early information sharing and early requests for support
2. Harmonised early action planning including agreed thresholds for action
3. Allocation of domestic resources for preparedness and early action
B. Managing risk to protect people and assets (Absorb)
1. Adaptive social protection programmes for resilience
2. Expanded use of insurance solutions whenever appropriate
3. Protecting dependent populations in institutions: Healthcare, Justice and Education
C. Climate-proofing development (Reshape)
1. Risk-informed national and local planning for disaster and climate resilience
2. Climate-proof strategies for resilience in key affected sectors
a. Food and nutrition security and agriculture/pastoralism
b. Health and nutrition
c. Water, sanitation and hygiene
d. Resilient livelihoods

The Blueprint’s success is predicated on strong national leadership of the process and continuing high-level engagement and monitoring of multi-sectoral implementation. Collaboration with a wide range of other partners will also be needed to achieve results. Four critical areas for partnerships were identified by the Special Envoys:

Partnerships for Financing
Public-Private Partnerships
Partnerships for Capacity Development and Learning Partnerships With Research Institutions and Academia

The Blueprint implements the Agenda for Humanity`s Core Responsibility Four, which set out a ‘New Way of Working’ that seeks to move ‘from delivering aid to ending need’ by anticipating crises through risk management; reinforcing local institutions and actors for prevention, and increasing humanitarian-development collaboration to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability. The Blueprint is based within the Human Security Approach, and will work to put women and girls at the centre of national resilience planning and action.

The Blueprint is offered as tool to be used by any country. It is, however, envisioned that the Blueprint approach will be undertaken by a small number of ‘early mover’ countries most affected by the 2015/2016 El Niño. Work in these countries would begin in March 2017, when the immediate emergency has subsided.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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