The effects of El Niño are having a devastating impact, as already two dozen people have died from hunger and contaminated drinking water in Papua New Guinea. Now experts are predicting that more than four million people across the Pacific could soon be without substantial food or clean water because of the weather pattern.
The phenomenon of El Niño occurs when waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean become warmer, and the result is that extreme weather conditions, such as drought and hurricanes, are more likely to take place. In the 1997-98 season, more than 23,000 people died as a result of El Niño.
In Papua New Guinea, a severe drought in combination with a sudden frost has killed almost all of the nation’s crops. For a country that is heavily dependent on subsistence farming, the effect is disastrous. So far, 24 people have died, and that number is expected to rise. Two provinces of the country have already issued a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, countries near the equator are expected to receive more rain, flooding and above average sea levels. Countries in the Pacific southwest are going to receive more droughts.
United Nations representative of the Pacific Sune Gudnitz said, “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.
Gudnitz went on to cite specific examples of countries that are in trouble.
“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,” he stated.
Drought has already been declared in 34 provinces in Indonesia. Other countries dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes are expected to have a challenging time handling the effects of drought.
In Fiji, some villages are starting to depend on water that is being imported from other parts of the island country by truck.
Tonga has been forced to ship water to the outer islands of the country.
There is a particular concern for countries affected by a scarcity of food, as droughts might make it impossible to grow enough food to sustain their populations. El Niño can usually bring 20% less rainfall across a country, and it can throw off the rainy season, making things challenging for farmers. Additionally, rainy seasons are more likely to contain landslides, flash floods, damage to infrastructure and the destruction of crops.
Many experts are attributing the deadly effects of the current El Niño to climate change. While, El Niño patterns have traditionally occurred every three to seven years, they are now twice as frequent, and the patterns are more intense than they have been in the past. Even though wealthier countries are believed to be mostly responsible for climate change, it is the poorest countries that have the hardest time dealing with the effects.
On the positive side, experts are hoping that this year’s challenging El Niño will accelerate talks regarding the environmental impact of climate change in the future. One such meeting is scheduled to take place in December in Paris.